Book review: Island 731 delivers non-stop chills

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A 2014 bio-thriller

In Jeremy Robinson’s thriller Island 731, an ecological expedition in the Pacific runs aground on an unknown island.  A crewmate flees and Hawkins, a hero who earlier survived a grizzly bear attack, sets out to find him.  Hawkins and his love interest, the risk-taking Joliet, plunge inland despite initial signs of danger.

Why their geeky but likable crewmate Kam would have run away makes no sense at first.  Hawkins and Joliet speculate that Kam went into hiding after killing another crewmate:

“That’s my best theory.”

Joliet sagged.  “I came up with the same thing.  Do you really think Kam would run?  If it was an accident—”

The search is complicated as Hawkins and Joliet quickly learn that the island is teeming with dangerous lifeforms that are blends of more than one species.  The discovery of an island with previously undiscovered creatures makes this thriller reminiscent of The Land That Time Forgot.  And like Edgar Rice Burrough’s classic, the threats to the protagonists aren’t only from the island’s beasts, but from frictions within the marooned crew.

An island full of chimeras is exciting, foreboding, and mysterious.  It creates a great, dark atmosphere.  That being said, some of the chimeras have so many progenitors that they are difficult to visualize.  For example, one chimera has a face with features from a bat, goat, tiger, and crocodile.  Tough to picture.

The search leads the main characters into more danger and closer to the truth of the island.  Without giving any spoilers, Robinson’s work shows a broad familiarity with biology, history, and conspiracy theories.  Island 731 delivers plausibly on these themes.  There is some background and technical information that must be conveyed for the story to make sense, but Robinson handles those passages economically without retarding the action.

The characters are engaging.  Larger-than-life villains and bald faced evil make for an ambitious book, but Robinson pulls it together.  Hawkins’s jovial sidekick Bray is fun, and the romance between Hawkins and Joliett is well done.

Parts of the book are gruesome:  one character is crucified hanging from his own entrails.  “Patients” are dissected alive.  If you didn’t like the bloody, gross-out scenes of the movie “Saw,” this may not be the right book for you.

Some thrillers have great beginnings and the action falls apart toward the end or doesn’t pay off.  That’s not the case with Island 731.  The action builds throughout and the stakes get higher toward the end.  Robinson has a good sense for plot, pace, tension, and momentum.  The characters are always on the move and run into one obstacle after another.

For readers who are drawn to thrillers because they enjoy non-stop thrills and chills, look no further.  If you’ve got a dark streak, you’ll want to bring this apocalyptic island adventure on your next cruise.

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