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BOOK
King Kong
The Island of the Skull

Author: Matthew Costello
Pocket Books
RRP 6.99
ISBN 1 4165 1166 0
Available 07 November 2005


America is in the depths of the greatest economic depression it has ever known. Work is hard to come by and in such desperate times people will do almost anything to survive. Sam Kelly becomes a victim of the economic disaster. A former navy diver, he takes a job, diving for a pearl ship, a journey that will take him away from one nightmare only to present him with the ultimate nightmare. Carl Denham is having his own troubles, with the advent of talkies his own brand of anthropological thrillers are become more difficult to finance and shoot, one more disaster will bring him to the point of ruin. In a completely different world Ann Darrow struggles to keep a job as an actress, a struggle that she is slowly loosing. Three different people, who have intertwined destinies, which will bring them all to the Island of the Skull; to Kong...

King Kong: The Island of the Skull is an odd book. Not the book itself, just the idea of doing a prequel to one of the most famous films around. I did feel that this was going to be either a good read or a naff cash-in project. The author Matthew Costello, is no newbie, having written a number of original novels, he also owes me way to many sleepless nights and the odd few years lost as he was also the author of the Doom 3 game, one of the most engrossing and scariest games I ever played.

Costello does a great job of conjuring up the desperation that the depression created in many people, desperation that would lead people to taking great risks if there was a possibility of escaping from their poverty. As a prequel, one of the things that the book had to convince the reader of was that people really could become so hopeless that they would willingly jump in a rickety old boat in search of a giant ape. Costello weaves a convincing set of circumstances to explain the personal motivations behind joining such a hazardous expedition.

The narrative also introduces characters which, whilst they will not make it into the original story of King Kong, nevertheless provide pivotal roles, without which the story of Kong would never have come about. No, I'm not going to say how, as that would ruin the book, but as anyone who knows either the original film or has gotten around to seeing the Peter Jackson version will realise, there is no Sam Kelly as a central character. Costello goes a long way to hide Sam's importance and when it is revealed, it really does come as both a surprise and a delight.

So, a great little book which captures the feeling of the nineteen thirties when the world wasn't as small as it is today, where hidden realms really could hold a Kong. As a novel it's a rewarding read whether you're a die hard Kong fan or not.

Charles Packer

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