Review: The Island by Lisa Henry

Book info:
Form: pdf e-book
Genre: m/m romance, suspence/thriller
Target audience: adults only


Adam Shaw is smuggling a stolen Cezanne, The Boy in the Red Vest, to a private tropical island somewhere in the Fiji archipelago. The island is owned by a rich drug warlord called Vornis who is also the buyer of the painting. Shaw hopes to earn a lot and to gain precious business contacts as well – happy Vornis has invited some of his buddies (read: high-profile criminals, filthy rich and influential) to celebrate the Cezanne acquisition . Shaw is also rewarded for his troubles with more than money– as a welcome gift he is lent a young man who is supposed to fulfill all his sexual fantasies. A fuck buddy. A live toy. A sex slave. All depends on your own definition of morality. Soon enough Shaw feels responsible for the fate of Lee although it is absolutely against his own best interest.

Stolen from Zurich, recovered in Serbia on April 12, 2012

The normal life for Lee Anderson ended when he was captured by Vornis men during a DEA raid in Colombia. All his team dead, he caught the eye of Vornis himself and was allowed to live. And suffer. First he was imprisoned, then transported to the private island while repeatedly beaten, raped, drugged, tortured, debased and humiliated by a very gifted sadist and anybody from his entourage who expressed such a wish. He was moulded into a thing, treated worse than an animal, reduced to a form of casual and very cruel entertainment.

When he is sent to Adam Shaw’s hut he expects nobody else but another monster who wants to take advantage of his helplessness and hurt him. To his surprise he meets with cunning kindness and compassion instead. He starts to hope against hope that somehow he will be saved before it is too late. But will he, really?

What I liked:

I am not a fan of m/m romance but this novel was really good and I can appreciate a good story when I read one. The character of Shaw was really ambiguous enough to make me forget his constant repetitions which after a while, could be construed as whining. Well, they were not. They bordered philosophy. I am a sucker for philosophy in novels. Shaw fought hard and long to manage his position with grace, not to succumb to the charm of Lee’s innocence. He fought and lost because he was not a monster. Still he felt really uncomfortable being where he was – on an indecently beautiful island, dined and wined by Vornis, a real monster BDSM sadist who had to be deceived and cajoled because he could turn vicious and murder his guest any time. Only near the end you find out why Shaw was so willing to play his role to the bitter end. I wish he was reading Nietzsche.

The ordeal of Lee was horrible but I really loved the fact that the author didn’t stop half-way and didn’t end her narration right after the successful rescue (as it often happens in such a books). The fact that she showed Lee’s struggle afterwards was the most compelling part of the book in my view because being rescued is one thing and learning to live with your burden of experiences is quite another, sometimes even more daunting task. It is not a coincidence that some Holocaust survivors committed suicide years after being rescued from Nazi death camps.

I also loved how the romance between Lee and Shaw was developed – slowly, steadily, without the unnecessary rush (mind you I mean here romance, not sex, which is not the same). It made the final much more real and gripping, especially that you didn’t know what to expect practically to the last page.

What I didn’t like:

In short: lack of research. I could stop here but I decided to give my darker side an opportunity to charm you. 🙂

I admit I wondered how come Shaw, being on an inhabited tropical island in the middle of Pacific with just a laptop enjoyed a decent Internet connection (small wonder, taking into account the fact that my own Internet was shaky at that very moment I was simply jealous like hell) but I could write such a blunder off. I wondered how come Vornis didn’t attempt to hack into Shaw’s computer to check his mailbox but perhaps he wasn’t that curious and/or safety-crazy. I admit I smiled with indulgence while reading that a certain woman called Irina (a nice Russian name) said ‘ukochany’ (a Polish word) twice but still it was just a fluff, who can distinguish between all those Slavic people and their strange languages (certainly not an Aussie). But after a while I reached a major slip-up. Really major and completely Anglo-Saxon if not straightforwardly American. Let me present my case properly.

One of the main characters, the hapless and much abused Lee Anderson, just 22, is a simple boy, apparently without any university degree or/and experience. His dad and mum own a small, local hardware store somewhere in the Midwest so they are neither influential nor rich. According to the author Lee wanted to join the police force but somehow he happened to find a job with the DEA; he was even taken on one of their foreign special missions which actually was the beginning of the whole ordeal. You might start thinking now that the DEA is something like a soft option for those who don’t qualify as cops but aren’t completely hopeless either. And here everything goes down crashing, at least for me.

I am aware that Ms. Henry is Australian but hey, I am not an American as well. Still even a very perfunctory and basic Google search (I made it really short and sweet) allowed me to gather plenty of ammunition for this section of my review. Yes, call me anal, call me anything you want; still the facts remain as follows (I am quoting here the Wikipedia and the official DEA website, both sources easy to find and completely accessible to the wider audience):

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is a United States federal law enforcement agency under the U.S. Department of Justice, tasked with combating drug smuggling and use within the United States. WITHIN mind you, not abroad (more about it later).

Yes, they can employ you but not without a training and, according to their website, the average age of the students is 30 years. 30, not 20. Why? Approximately 60 percent of all trainees arrive with prior law enforcement experience, while 30 percent come from a military background. In addition, the majority of the students possess a bachelor’s degree and nearly 20 percent have some post-graduate educational experience. After receiving a conditional offer of employment, recruits must make it through a 19-week rigorous training which consist of firearms proficiency including basic marksmanship, weapons safety, tactical shooting, and deadly force decision training. As you see they don’t offer entry positions for barely adult wannabe cops and you don’t have to be a genius to realize that in real world somebody like Lee would never stand a chance of employment.

Could he go abroad with them? Yes, he could – but once again only theoretically. You see, DEA has a section called Foreign-deployed Advisory and Support Teams (FAST – isn’t it a nice acronym by the way?). Still the selection for FAST is extremely difficult; attrition rates are usually above 50%. Selection is rumored to last 8 weeks where events such as timed runs, timed ruck sack marches, land navigation and many others are conducted daily. Once selection is complete, advanced training begins with emphasis in small unit tactics, and close quarters battle. Only after such a training the FAST agents are sent abroad. It definitely sounds more like SEAL or SAS than a job opportunity for young, undereducated police hopefuls without any skills. Now tell me, can you imagine Lee as one of FAST agents? I have to admit that I can’t – not with the characterization he was given.

I really do understand why Ms Henry needed Lee to be a bit gullible and as young as possible. She had to present him as a puppy-cute youth, vulnerable, impressionable, mentally fragile but also full of the desire to live, with his whole adulthood before him. Shaw, the older and more experienced guy, was sometimes literally hurt just imagining the wasted potential Lee represented. Still making him a DEA agent ruined the whole premise for me because such an individual would be noticeably older, more devious, definitely better trained and not so innocent and defenseless as the fictional Lee was, even facing such a monster as Vornis. Perhaps such a hardened version of Lee would make the whole story better, who knows. It would certainly made me a happier reader.

BTW I am not a fan of the cover art either. Just a torso with artificial abs ? Not impressed. Give me the island instead!

Final verdict:

A surprisingly good story, flawless when it comes to the psychology, told in an interesting way, with some nice characters. As long as you don’t explore the DEA angle too closely you’ll be fine even if you don’t like m/m romance.

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5 Responses to Review: The Island by Lisa Henry

  1. Blodeuedd says:

    I still feel an eh from me

  2. Your comment is rather cryptic. You were watching TV while writing it or what?

  3. I am intrigued by the art history element, but yeah, the requirements for the DEA are actually pretty standard with all government law enforcement jobs in the US. Like with the FBI (I know this because I really wanted to join the FBI's Art Crime Team) you have to have a mix of law enforcement experience and education (read: a master's degree if you don't have the former), plus at least three years of continuous employment at another job. So nearly everyone who enters the FBI is in their late 20s/early 30s with advanced education and a previous career.

  4. Tasha, I loved the fact that the author at least got it right with the Cezanne painting. There are several versions of The Boy in the Red Vest and one of them was, indeed stolen and then retrieved (follow this link if you want more info. Yes, I checked it as well – some books simply release an anal demon in me ;p. I really wanted to join the FBI's Art Crime Team Oh, what a great idea! I think you would be a kick-ass FBI gal. If I knew anybody there I would tell them to take you on.

  5. Alas, I've never been employed at a single place for longer than a year because of school and my own boredom. Whomp-whomp. ):

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