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Book Review: Pines, by Blake Crouch

Secret Service agent wakes up in creepy town, has to figure out WTF is going on.


Pines

Thomas & Mercer, 2012, 315 pages



Wayward Pines, Idaho, is quintessential small-town America — or so it seems. Secret Service agent Ethan Burke arrives in search of two missing federal agents, yet soon is facing much more than he bargained for. After a violent accident lands him in the hospital, Ethan comes to with no ID and no cell phone. The medical staff seems friendly enough, but something feels…off. As the days pass, Ethan’s investigation into his colleagues’ disappearance turns up more questions than answers. Why can’t he make contact with his family in the outside world? Why doesn’t anyone believe he is who he says he is? And what’s the purpose of the electrified fences encircling the town? Are they keeping the residents in? Or something else out? Each step toward the truth takes Ethan further from the world he knows, until he must face the horrifying possibility that he may never leave Wayward Pines alive…




I can see why this book is compared to "Twin Peaks," and also how it became a TV series. I wonder if the author wrote it with TV in mind. It's a creepy mystery that gets creepier and more unreal with every chapter, and I'm sure the TV series (which I have not seen) capitalizes on this episodic quality.

Normally I am pretty cynical about books that seem made-for-TV, but Pines really sucked me in.

Ethan Burke is a Secret Service agent sent to Wayward Pines, Idaho, to find a pair of fellow agents who went missing a month ago. He and his new partner are T-boned by a Mack truck as soon as they arrive in town, and when Burke wakes up in the hospital, he finds that his partner is dead, all of his identification is missing, and the townspeople, from the nurse to the sheriff to a pretty, helpful bartender, are all disturbingly affable (except for the sheriff) and yet completely unhelpful. Somehow, all of Burke's attempts to collect his possessions and ID, or to contact anyone in the outside world, fail. No one will help him and no one will answer his questions. What sort of creepy, staged, perfect little Smalltown America is this? What the hell is going on?

These questions, running through Burke's mind, run through the reader's as well, and every chapter adds more to the mystery while answering nothing. Burke is fleshed out a bit with flashbacks to his time in Iraq, and alternating POV chapters in which we meet his beleagured wife. But mostly I just really wanted to know what the hell is up with Wayward Pines. Is the answer going to be supernatural? Science fiction? Magical realism? Some sort of metafictional conceit? Or just garden variety conspiracy thriller stuff with a lot of improbable plot devices twisted hard?

It was almost a disappointment to reach the Big Reveal in the final chapters, though I should be happy as usually I am annoyed when the first book in a series ends without answering any of the big questions.

That said, there are clearly plenty of questions left unanswered, and Season Two... I mean, the next book is waiting. This one hooked me, and I recommend it for anyone who likes this sort of crazy-making journey in which the main character has to figure out a bizarre mystery before anything starts to make sense.

Rating: 8/10





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