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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pines by Blake Crouch (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “PINESHERE
Read an Excerpt HERE
Read FBC’s Review of “Eerie” by Blake and Jordan Crouch
Read FBC’s Review of “Run” by Blake Crouch
Read FBC’s Review of “Serial Killers Uncut” by Jack Kilborn and Blake Crouch
Read FBC’s Interview with Blake Crouch

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Blake Crouch was born in Statesville, North Carolina and graduated in 2000 with degrees in English and Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina. He has written four previous novels and a host of short stories. Two of his stories have been optioned for film adaptation. Blake currently lives in Durango, Colorado with his wife. 

OFFICIAL BLURB: 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.

FORMAT/INFO: Pines is 315 pages long divided over eighteen numbered chapters with an epilogue. Narration is in the third-person via Ethan Burke and Theresa Burke. Pines is self-contained and ends on a clear note, however is the first book in the Wayward Pines Trilogy. The book also features an afterword and includes a listing of Blake Crouch’s bibliography.

August 21, 2012 marked the overall Paperback and e-book publication of Pines via Thomas and Mercer. Cover art and design provided by Jeroen Ten Berge.

ANALYSIS: Pines is Blake Crouch’s first solo effort after last year’s horror-thriller epic Run. I was very intrigued to see what Blake would write next and when Pines was announced since last year, I was excited inspite of not much info being available about it. Earlier this year saw the release of Eerie, which was a collaboration between the Crouch brothers and was a great amalgamation of ideas and genres. That book I believe can be thought of as an experiment for this book and this thought might become crystal clear to readers who finish both books.

The story begins in a very confusing fashion with Ethan waking up dazed, hurt and severely confused , he only vaguely remembers what happened to him but what he clearly remembers is why he has come to Wayward Pines. He is searching for two secret service agents Kate Hewson and Bill Evans. Things get predictably weird as he can’t get a cell phone connection, nobody quite recalls seeing him before and the town police are as helpful as the Romans were to the druids. The town residents are neither overtly helpful nor openly hostile however Ethan constantly keeps on getting a strange vibe about the residents and the town. On the outside we are also introduced to Theresa Burke, Ethan’s wife who is informed of his possible death however she refuses to believe it and her assumption is backed by Ethan’s boss as he presents his thoughts to her. Thus the reader is ushered into this crazy but familiar premise not knowing entirely what is happening and why is it so.

The plot of this book was inspired by Twin Peaks as indicated in the authorial afterword and the story pays homage to the TV show by creating a similar creepy and  menacing  premise. This premise however, is one that will be familiar to many readers but Blake Crouch does his job well by then turning the story on its head in the last chapter.  The author also creates a confusing atmosphere for both the main protagonist as well as the readers. This sense of acute vertigo is prevalent through out the book and the main character is haunted by the sporadic memories that he has. He remembers his name and why he was sent to Wayward Pines but the last few hours of his life are a complete blur. Not helping his situation is the fact that his health isn’t the most stable, beginning with a concussion and the side effects associated with it. Ethan lumbers on with his search however the readers can constantly feel his pain and disorientation.

Blake Crouch’s prose again does the trick over here beginning with Ethan and his attempts at completing his job then to the dark atmosphere of the town making it seem mysterious and simple both at the same time. His words were what made Run such a ghastly as well as an emotional story and a similar situation is to be found over here as well. Secondly another factor that works in the book’s favor is its pace and plot twists, while the book is quite fast paced, though not the same level as some of Crouch's earlier work but is still good enough than most other thrillers. The plot twists however are sheer genius; they aren’t that many quantity-wise however in regards to quality and shock value they reach Bradmanesque proportions. The twists explain a lot about the story and make sense to the reader as well. The plot and its overall direction can be said to be a cross between Twin Peaks, X-files and one more factor that shall go unnamed at the risk of being a huge spoiler.

The characterization is also neatly done as in this story we mostly get to be around Ethan and get to view his crumbling world. There are other characters however we don’t get to see much of their point of view as Ethan takes center stage until the climax of the story. The main thing that powers Ethan is his need to reconnect with his family and it’s this theme that I have found to be constant through out many of Blake’s books. The need to connect with or create a bond akin to those found within a familial unit. His characters both heroic and villainous do tremendous feats in regards to other characters that they feel/share familial bonds with. This was very well executed in last year’s Run. This book also plays with that theme and here as well we come across a character (Ethan) that wants to break out of his situation to meet with his family. This characterization will either work or not work for the reader and in Blake’s case works wonders in his insane plots. Since this is the first book of a possible trilogy, the sequel volumes to Pines will be truly awesome as the way the story ends, readers will want to know more about Wayward Pines and especially what happens next.

I don’t think this book has any faults or shortcomings however as a reviewer I have to point out certain things objectively. Namely the plot twists while I loved them and the direction that this story took, I can’t say with certainty that every reader will be as amazed as I was. Most readers will of course be delighted but a few might dislike it for reasons of their own. The only other point that I would like to highlight is that the ending felt a bit incomplete in regards to a certain situation that isn't quite properly explained. I'm hoping that when the sequel does get written then this will be one of the major subplots to be clarified. I didn’t find any other points to nitpick objectively and I can say for fans of Blake Crouch that this book is another winner from this young thriller writer and should not be missed.

CONCLUSION: Blake Crouch does it again. After last year's book, expectations were sky high however with Pines, he takes all that anticipation and gives us a story that is familiar to most thriller-mystery readers and then blows the cover of our minds. Readers itching for clues can look to Eerie for a clue in regards to the nature of the plot twist however be warned you will still be surprised as I was. Pines is another excellent effort from a writer whom I can safely say delivers on his word to knock your mental socks off and then some…

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