Regis Schilken,
The Island Off Stony Point
(Bridgeway, 2006)

The Island Off Stony Point by Regis Schilken surely sounded like a promising read: Three people dead after an assault on a monastery? Monks taken hostage to ransom tens of millions of dollars from the Catholic Church? Believe me, I'm so in. But, as I quietly scanned over the final sentences in Schilken's brief 216-page drama, I realized the novel I assumed would have me on the edge of my seat failed to move me from the back of my chair.

Sorry, Reg, but in many ways Stony Point felt like the how-to guide on how not to write a novel.

To fill you in, a young group of conspirators -- including husband and wife Keith and Malena Sinteris and their friend, Stony -- lead the operation, which calls for the murder of a few monks and taking three more hostage to profit from later. The conspirators also make off with the monastery's tabernacle and plan to give some of their ransomed millions to Malena's sister, Cynthia, who's in financial business hell. Local detective Jessica Harding and FBI agent Robert Dexter work on the case together, spending the remainder of the novel trying to uncover the kidnappers' secret hideout (in this case, a cave on an island off Stony Point, N.Y. -- hence the title).

Oh, do yourself a favor and don't read the book publisher's helpful description on the novel's reverse side and on various websites. Why? Essentially, the so-called "description" is in fact a blueprint for the novel's entire storyline. Literally, no surprises!

And that was one of the things that irked me about Stony Point. Sure, I ruined the experience by reading the very description that any average reader would consider "safe." But even if I hadn't, there wasn't anything -- well, maybe a little at the end, maybe -- that I would have found surprising: The gruesome operation for the most part goes according to plan, the conspirators hide in their cave, detectives piece together their limited information, the conspirators make demands, officials obey their demands -- and enough already. Throw a wrench into the plot, a curveball, screwdriver, throw anything, really! Schilken merely goes through the motions.

His choices in dialogue are also troubling. A particular favorite of mine is fairly late in the novel, when detective Harding and agent Dexter book a room together for the evening. In an act of desperate flirtation, Dexter says to Harding, "Wow, you look awful -- awful cute that is." Seriously, who talks like that? And unfortunately, Schilken makes it a habit of sorts to include these cringe-worthy dialogues one too many times.

But what has to be included for any novel to at least be considered "good" is for the author to pay close attention to his characters. I want them to be real, I want them to grow and, most importantly, I want them to change. And here, with the exception of a meager one -- kind of -- it simply never happens. In Stony Point, it seems Schilken was so concerned with story that he left his characters both undeveloped, and for the most part untouched. By the end of it, I couldn't care less whether the conspirators make off with their plan, whether the detectives foil it, even whether Stony's close relations with one of the monks softens his hardened heart.

So there you have it. Stony Point is at best a beach read. But even in that game, I'd probably still choose the water.

review by
Eric Hughes

8 September 2007

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