Authors: Robin Hardy and Anthony Shaffer | Page Count: 285
‘From inside the asylum of his own skin, he looked around a world that he peopled suddenly, in his imagination, with strangers...’
A wise person once said ‘Never judge a book by its movie.’ It’s generally applied one way, to defend a good book from the damage done to its reputation by a bad movie, but sometimes the opposite perspective is needed. Judging by how good The Wicker Man (1973) film is, I imagined the book to be at least equal in terms of impact given that it’s written by the film’s director, Robin Hardy, and uses much of the dialogue from Anthony Shaffer’s excellent screenplay verbatim. I've only myself to blame for that assumption not panning out as hoped.
The protagonist is Police Sergeant Neil Howie. On the surface he’s an honest, steadfast Episcopalian Christian respectful of the laws of man and God. Beneath that, he’s forceful and secretly judgemental of others. It’s possible to view him as a haughty zealot quick to strike down those who challenge his beliefs but that’s only half the story; he’s more complex than he first appears. Deeper still, hidden from the world, he’s inexperienced and fearful of his own desires.
Howie is summoned to a remote Western Isle off the coast of Scotland. It’s an isle filled with villagers that worship a different pantheon. For Howie, the Christian God created everything in nature, so in theory even the heretical worship of false gods could be, by extension, reverence for his god. That’s the depth of his arrogance and is in part responsible for his actions once there.
There’s a mystery to be unravelled. It’s an unusual missing person case that may even be a murder. Sergeant Howie's belief that his superior deity will guide and aid him in ensuring justice is done is only the beginning of his problems.
As the mystery deepens, the novel begins to unravel. The quality of the prose drops and doesn't recover. By the end it feels like fan fiction.
I’ll do us all a service by cutting the review short here and instead return to how I began. Maybe it'll help someone else avoid the same level of disappointment that I had. Never judge a book by its movie—even when the movie's good.
2½ circles to the nail out of 5