"Island of the Dolls (World's Scariest Places Book Four)" Book Review
Written by R.J. MacReady
Published by Ghillinnein Books
Written by Jeremy Bates
2016, 360 pages, Fiction
Released on March 21st, 2016
Going into Island of the Dolls I wasn't really sure what to expect. I'd never heard of Jeremy Bates or his "World's Scariest Places" series, but other reviewers had compared him to King, Koontz, Richard Laymon and Joe Hill. Sounds good, right? Let's see if he lived up to the hype.
The Isla de las Munecas, or "Island of the Dolls", is a supposedly-haunted island littered with old dolls. In the trees, on the ground, everywhere. The plastic, dead eyes seem to keep watch over it all.
A group of friends travels to the island – one of them, Jesus, is a documentary filmmaker who wants to shoot a segment about the legendary haunted island. I use the word "friends" loosely because the group dynamic is pretty messed up. Jesus' sister is dating our protagonist, Jack – and when does a brother ever get along with his sister's boyfriend? Then there's Jesus' friend Nitro, a weightlifting thug who's never gotten along with Jack. Tack on Jesus' girlfriend Elizaveta, who may or may not have a crush on Jack...and you have the making of some serious drama between them all.
And I haven't even mentioned that as soon as they get there they find a dead body, and suddenly have no way off the island.
You may know that I hate spoilers of any kind, so there won't be any here. That's all I'm giving you plot-wise, and let's face it, that's all you need to know about the plot to know if you're interested in the book.
Let's talk about whether the writing is enough for you to shell out your hard-earned cash, and on that score there's good and there's bad.
Jeremy Bates can write. No doubt about that. His prose is confident and he handles transitions between perspectives very well. For instance, some of the chapters are in first person from Jack's perspective. Others are in the third person, depending on what's going on in the scene, whether it be on the island, or flashbacks to the 1950s. I've seen seasoned writers like James Patterson fail at making those transitions seamless, so Bates gets points there.
And he definitely brings the creep factor to bear. If you find dolls at all creepy – and you probably do because duh, they ARE creepy – then you'll probably find yourself suitably tense during some scenes.
If you sense a BUT here, then you're a little ahead of me. The problem is the book flips back and forth between the current time and the 1950s, where we follow a troubled little girl named Maria. I found myself zoning out about halfway through the book every time we jumped backward in time.
It's not that her story is dull, but when you're writing parallel stories you need the dramatic tension in each to be as equal as possible. For instance – not from the book – if there's a tense chase scene where a car driven by our protagonist is about to go off of a cliff, but we cut away to the next chapter that concerns the protagonist ten years earlier being taught how to drive by his father...you're going to be bored. The only way to fight that is to make sure the tension is also rising in the parallel story – so maybe the father is showing his son how to drive, but has a heart attack in the middle of it. Then move to the next chapter, where we see what's happening in the car chase later. The reader needs to be equally invested in both storylines, or they will be bored by the less-interesting one.
But there's none of that in the flashbacks. Bates DOES bring it all around in a neat circle, but the flashbacks really only serve to reveal plot points, and I was more interested in what was going to happen to the people in the present stuck on the island in the middle of the night during a raging storm.
However, that's not enough for me to not recommend the book. It's entertaining enough that you'll enjoy it, and Bates has made it cheap enough on the Kindle that I'd say definitely order it if the premise sounds intriguing to you.
So, I'd say Island of the Dolls is solid if not great, but I'll definitely be looking at Jeremy Bates some more. He's got a short story called Six Bullets that definitely sounds up my alley – I'll be checking it out in the very near future.