Book Reviews

World’s Scariest Places: ISLAND OF THE DOLLS – Bates, Jeremy

The novels in the World’s Scariest Places series are set in real locations. The following is a Wikipedia “Island of the Dolls” excerpt:

A two-hour canal ride from Mexico City lies Isla de las Munecas, or the Island of the Dolls. It is the best-known chinampa , or floating garden, in Xochimilco. It belonged to a man named Julián Santana Barrera, a native of the La Asunción neighborhood. Santana Barrera was a loner, who was rarely seen in most of Xochimilco . According to the legend, Barrera discovered a little girl drowned in mysterious circumstances in the canals. He also found a doll floating nearby and, assuming it belonged to the deceased girl, hung it from a tree as a sign of respect. After this, he began to hear whispers, footsteps, and anguished wails in the darkness even though his hut—hidden deep inside the woods of Xochimilco—was miles away from civilization. Driven by fear, he spent the next fifty years hanging more and more dolls, some missing body parts, all over the island in an attempt to appease what he believed to be the drowned girl’s spirit.

After Barrera’s death in 2001—his body reportedly found in the exact spot where he found the girl’s body fifty years before—the area became a popular tourist attraction where visitors bring more dolls. The locals describe it as “charmed”—not haunted—even though travelers claim the dolls whisper to them. Professional photographer Cindy Vasko visited the nightmarish island and described it as the “creepiest place she has ever visited.” The excursion began through maze-like canals, surrounded by lush greenery and beautiful singing birds, but soon her boat was slowed down by a swarm of lily pads and the canal fell ominously silent. She told MailOnline: “At the end of the journey, the trajinera turned along a bend in the waterway and I was struck by a surreal vision of hundreds, maybe thousands, of dolls hanging from trees on the tiny island.” The dolls are still on the island, accessible by boat.

Deep within an ancient Aztec canal system on the outskirts of Mexico City lies Isla de las Munecas…a reportedly haunted island infested with thousands of possessed dolls.

While there to film a television documentary, several friends discover a brutal murder, and it’s not long before fear and paranoia turn them against one another – even as the unknown killer stalks them throughout what will become the longest night of their lives.

I wasn’t sure what I was seeing at first. My brain didn’t register the dolls. There were too many; the sheer number overwhelmed me. But then I was seeing them, registering them, because there they were, everywhere, an entire midget army clinging to trees and dangling from branches. There must have been hundreds of them—and these were only the ones lining the bank.

“Holy shit,” I said.

“I know,” Elizaveta said.

I really liked this book but in my opinion, it wasn’t as scary as Helltown or Suicide Forest. The cast is small – two couples and an extra go to a presumed haunted island filled with creepy dolls to do a documentary during a tropical storm. Their boat guide leaves them there stranded until the next day and once they arrive they make a few startling discoveries. There was a young girl hiding in the previous caretaker’s cottage. There was a dead body next to a severely stabbed but still breathing girl. There was a serial killer on the loose and tensions run high among the group as infidelity is discovered.

When Nitro (Muscle man) gets stabbed in the first part of the evening and bleeds to death, the others have to reconcile with the thought that they might not make it back alive. It doesn’t help their case that creepy dolls pepper the place, things go missing and the victim’s eyes are gouged out. All during a massive storm.

Tropical storms were a different matter altogether, reaping destruction and often lasting days.

The people become untrusting and slowly we learn a lot more about each of them.

Jack is an American ex race-car driver, engaged to a superstitious Mexican Princess named Pita. Her brother, Jesus, is pretty pretentious and always appears slick and well dressed. Jack hates Jesus’s and Pita’s meat-head friend Nitro, whom he calls Muscles due to his super-toned body. Jesus is dating the Russian beauty Elizaveta and Pita had a secret affair with Nitro.

They all embark on a trip to the Isla de las Munecas aka the Island of the Dolls just outside Mexico city to help their buddy Pepper shoot his documentary about the island. Legend has it that the island is being haunted by a little girl that was found face down drowned in a pond. Due to this ghost, the man, Solano, who found the little girl dead has been stringing up dolls all over the island as an offering to her spirit. (Bates legend follows very closely to the original but with his own twists.) She continues to haunt and spook anyone who dare visit the island.

There is a bit of superstition at play and super creepy dreams everyone is having that creates the horror in this book. I mean, it could all be due to the surroundings and stress, but who knows.

And of course there were dolls—a riot of them, thirty, forty, more. Most were like those outside, discolored and blistered and boiled from the tropical sun. They were affixed to the walls, a cornucopia of creepy, crawly, bump-in-the-night abominations, and once again the sight of so many of them filled me with a niggle of trepidation and sadness. I wondered why they made me feel like this, and some Freudian mumbo-jumbo I read once came to mind, something regarding an inherent contradiction. Dolls are inanimate objects, they’re lifeless, but because they look like us, they appear alive—and when something that’s not alive appears too alive its familiarity turns to unfamiliarity, our brains reject it as unnatural, and our feelings for it sour toward revulsion. A roundabout way, I guess, of saying dolls are just plain spooky.

The killer is none other than Jesus who thought that Nitro was a cop out to investigate his private company affairs. The second killer is Maria – a feeble minded 50-year old woman with the mind of a child who was nearly killed by her parents when she was young and Solano took her in and created the spooky legend to keep others at bay.

Pita is shot dead by Jack in an attempt to save Elizaveta’s life, Jesus is arrested and trialled for murder, Jack and Elizaveta survive and manage to get to America, adopt a Russian Orphan and live happily ever after. The child that they found under the bed is safe and gets back in Jack’s life 10 years afterwards and I got a weird sexual undertone in their communications which kinda creeped me out.

It’s good the book ended how it did, but again, it was just a good wrap-all.

3/5

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