By Peter Benchley (Bantam; 1979)
A sordid tale by the author of JAWS, who after the success of that novel (his first) turned out a string of ocean-set thrillers. In the fitfully trashy THE ISLAND Peter Benchley explores a community of barbaric pirates descended from 18th Century buccaneers residing on a secluded island off the coast of Florida. There’s a reason this novel (and the 1981 movie adapted from it) never attained the iconic status of JAWS, or even that of Benchley’s THE DEEP, but THE ISLAND is an undeniable page turner.
The protagonist is a yuppie writer named Maynard who decides to investigate the disappearances of hundreds of boats near the titular Isle. Benchley takes his sweet time setting things up, with Maynard spending the first 150 pages tooling around the area with his young son Justin, during which time they narrowly escape a plane crash, and then the two are (finally!) captured by the pirates and hauled off to their island lair.
Here Maynard is made the sex slave of a pirate babe and Justin is brainwashed into becoming one of the swashbucklers. These freaks are dedicated to violence and debauchery, subsiding by plundering the contents of passing boats. Maynard and Justin get a first hand glimpse of the latter when they accompany the pirates on a hijacking mission, and join in the ensuing carnage a bit too readily.
Sounds like good violent pulp, and for the most part that’s exactly what THE ISLAND delivers. Still, there are some missed opportunities–as when the pirates hijack a boat containing tons of cocaine which, disappointingly enough, they immediately throw overboard (the idea of pirates on coke has definite possibilities)–and a plain lazy ending that has a military boat with a big machine gun conveniently turn up on the island just as Maynard is about to be executed. Thus Maynard and the author are given an easy way to dispatch the swashbucklers and end the story: shoot ‘em all!
Yet despite all that I still eagerly turned THE ISLAND’S pages to the end, and can’t say I didn’t find the overall reading experience an enjoyable one. Case closed.