Pines: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave

Pines by Blake Crouch science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsPines by Blake Crouch science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsPines by Blake Crouch

Apparently I’ve been living under a rock or, perhaps, in an isolated cottage in a pine forest, since I had never heard of Wayward Pines — the town, the trilogy of novels by Blake Crouch, or the Fox TV series based on these novels — before I picked up Pines (2012). In this case, being oblivious was a great thing, since the mystery wasn’t spoiled. I think it would be possible to enjoy reading Pines already knowing what the big secret is, but certainly not knowing was a major reason I found it so compelling.

A man regains consciousness by the side of a road in a small town, bruised and battered after an apparent car crash, and with temporary amnesia about most of the details of his life, and no ID on his person. He meets a few of the residents in town, who seem oddly withdrawn and wary. He winds up in the local hospital but feels leery of his treatment there. But with no ID, no cell phone, and little memory, his options are limited.

Fairly soon, Ethan remembers that he’s a Secret Service agent, and that he was heading to the town of Wayward Pines, Idaho to investigate the disappearance of two other federal agents, one of whom was his former partner and lover, Kate. Wayward Pines looks like a cozy, picturesque town, with its charming Victorian-style houses and high rock cliffs surrounding the town. But Ethan starts to realize how much he’s getting the runaround from … pretty much everyone in town. The hospital staff, the local sheriff, the people he talks to on the telephone (when the telephones even work): everything is just OFF, and people are acting strangely around him.

Wayward Pines (3 book series) Kindle EditionThere are so many questions in Ethan’s (and the reader’s) mind: Why is everyone acting so oddly? Why can’t he find his way out of town? Why can’t he reach anyone on the phone — including his boss and wife — that he knows?

Pines is a bewildering book (until the secrets start being revealed and All Is Explained), but it’s bewildering in a good way. It’s full to the brim and spilling over with tension and a lurking sense of danger and horror that becomes more and more tangible, as the novel picks up its pace steadily until the adrenaline-driven conclusion. I did have a couple of theories about what was going on; one was totally wrong and the other was, well, not quite right, but at least on the pathway to being right. I ended up rereading the final chapters a couple of times because the final answer was so very fascinating to me.

Pines loses a star in my rating because, after all the excitement of reading it was over, the explanation of what was going on in the town of Wayward Pines didn’t entirely hold water for me. Several of the events that took place struck me, in the cold light of morning, as unrealistic and illogical, elements that were added just to make the plot more exciting and Ethan’s life more stressful and dangerous.

My recommendation is that you turn off the critical functions of your brain and go along for the ride. Pines is an intense, gripping novel that was completely impossible for me to put down. I was in the library the very next day, checking out the two remaining books in this WAYWARD PINES series.

Published in 2012. The one-million copy bestseller that inspired the Fox TV show. Secret service agent Ethan Burke arrives in Wayward Pines, Idaho, with a clear mission: locate and recover two federal agents who went missing in the bucolic town one month earlier. But within minutes of his arrival, Ethan is involved in a violent accident. He comes to in a hospital, with no ID, no cell phone, and no briefcase. The medical staff seems friendly enough, but something feels…off. As the days pass, Ethan’s investigation into the disappearance of his colleagues turns up more questions than answers. Why can’t he get any phone calls through to his wife and son in the outside world? Why doesn’t anyone believe he is who he says he is? And what is the purpose of the electrified fences surrounding the town? Are they meant to keep the residents in? Or something else out? Each step closer to the truth takes Ethan further from the world he thought he knew, from the man he thought he was, until he must face a horrifying fact—he may never get out of Wayward Pines alive.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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  1. Such a great book series. The show was okay.

  2. Victoria Hannah /

    Unfortunately the reason it falls apart is because Crouch blatantly said that he was trying a Twin Peaks “Homage” with a twist. As long as he was doing the Peaksy homage, the little town with deep dark secrets, he was doing fine. But as soon as he added the big revealing twist, it can’t hold water because the big reveal can’t abide in a world that can be described as “Twin Peaks-eque.”

    • Interesting! I think I may have seen his Twin Peaks comment somewhere, but I never watched that show so I didn’t think about it too deeply. Conceptually I actually thought the twist was really cool, but there were just too many ways it didn’t really make sense, and those became more problematic for me as the series went on.

      • Victoria Hannah /

        I’m a Twin Peaks obsessee so, I’ve seen it, and seen it, and taken it apart, and put it back together again. I feel as if I know the world back to front.

        That said, the twist was cool. But the implausibility of it (and a character like Pilcher) couldn’t work in a Peaks-eque world. That’s why it was problematic for you.

        • Pilcher was a big part of the problem, for sure. My biggest issues with the twist:

          SPOILERS BELOW!!

          – 2000 years just seems wildly implausible for humans to change as much as is described in the book.
          – On the other hand, jumping forward 70,000 years at the end would be enough to expect a significant change in life on earth generally and the abbies in particular. But I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of suspension technology from the 21st century working for that long.
          – The whole idea of insisting that everything remain top secret, the level of spying and supervision, and murdering those who don’t comply with the rules, just didn’t hold water for me. Which brings us back to Pilcher and how he doesn’t work that well as a character in this universe.

          But I really did enjoy the trilogy as escapist reading, it’s just that it’s a little too easy to poke holes in it.

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