Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Source: Bought copy
I am a big fan of technothrillers and, in the absence of the much missed Michael Crichton, I can heartily recommend Jeremy Robinson. Having enjoyed Beneath (life is found on Jupiter’s moon Europa) and been kept awake in 2012 reading obsessively the most excellent SecondWorld (review is here), I couldn’t read Island 731 fast enough. I bought it in from the States as I couldn’t wait for the UK release. Now, though, the hardback is out in the UK. As with SecondWorld, I gave up eating and sleeping as I read the thriller although, admittedly, I did also have to give up on a fair amount of credulity. Not that that does one much harm now and again.
I was won over from the opening line, really: ‘Master Chief Petty Officer James Coffman awoke to find his leg being eaten’. Things got quickly even worse for Coffman but I was hooked instantly.
Island 731 is a remote Pacific Island, once caught up in World War II with Japan and now the last place on earth that you want your boat to be marooned. Mark Hawkins, former park ranger and tracker, is aboard the Magellan, a research vessel investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Following a terrible storm, the crew awake to find the ship inexplicably wrecked in the sheltered lagoon of a tropical island and crewmen are missing. When Hawkins heads ashore to recover the crew he stumbles across the remains of horrendous experiments on humans that took place during the 1940s. Further into the thick growth of the island, strange sounds and shadows in the trees alert Hawkins and his team to something threatening and sinister. As further crewmen disappear, taken or killed by a force unknown and indescribable, Hawkins and the captain (Drake) set off with a small team to solve the mystery of Island 731 before it destroys them.
As you can imagine, the island does its level best to tear the team apart, member by member, limb by limb, as they head deeper inland towards a manmade installation that is protected by much more than bullets and fences. Here there may be dragons.
There is no let up in the pace of this thriller. Like a train, it keeps on pounding relentlessly towards its destination. Following many of the tried and tested conventions of the disaster story, there are characters here to whom it doesn’t pay to get too attached. Likewise, there are others, especially Hawkins, who would take little short of a nuclear device to dent. Hawkins is, though, an interesting character and this is typical of Robinson. He is a master of creating likeable, breathing characters. He might give them an extraordinarily hard time but he does make them feel real. As a result, you’re far more likely to allow yourself to be consumed by the incredible shocks of the story, egging on the men and women you’ve grown to worry about.
There are shocks here by the gallon. This is a monster island, pure and simple, and some of them, though by no means most, are human. It’s a thrilling mix of evil villains, terrifying and mindblowing monsters, likeable heroes and heroines, and a strong appealing message that humanity will overcome. It’s not as memorable as SecondWorld but that, as one of my favourite reads of 2012, is hard to beat.
Don’t expect to take Island 731 too seriously but do expect to have a blast reading it. It asks little more from you than that but if you leave your credulity at the door it will reward you many times over. A great beach read! So long as it’s not that beach….