This review is SPOILER FREE.
I recently read Pines by Blake Crouch after it was recommended to me. I’d characterise it loosely as an x-files-type mystery.
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.
(Before I begin with my review, let me just say I love the cover art. The upside-down nature of it starts telling you things aren’t as they seem, and that the character is disoriented).
Crouch did an excellent job of planting a mystery in the opening pages and dragging me through to the last page. I read the book in a weekend which is a reflection of its addictive nature. I was shocked to discover its 80,000 words: it feels short, such is the pace that it maintains. Had I posted a review as soon as I’d finished, here’s where it would have ended, short and sweet. In the past week though, I’ve reflected on it more from an author’s perspective, growing to appreciate it even more.
The mystery is compounded and made even more intriguing by the fact that the main character ‘comes to’ after a car crash, without their memory. This confusion in the point-of-view character translates through to the reader. As an unreliable witness (amnesia) the reader is unsure if they should believe events through the eyes of the character.
The character in some respects is extra-ordinary: an ex-military pilot and a Secret Service agent. I’d normally consider this character to be ‘too strong’ and likely to overshadow any challenge before him. However his skills and expertise are significantly moderated by the car crash and past trauma he has suffered. Far from being a Rambo or Chuck Norris character, he only just manages to overcome the obstacles, and thus becomes a common man, surviving heroically. (If you can overlook the list of injuries and their likely effect on the human body, which I could.)
There were a few instances where the reasoning was a bit thin or the structure slightly problematic for me, but this is only with hindsight. This teaches an important lesson for aspiring authors – it doesn’t need to be perfect as long as your reader is engaged in the story. Unless it’s a HUGE blunder, they simply won’t notice. Plus, of course, perfection is subjective and a mighty hard goal to attain.
The one aspect I noticed immediately was the ending ‘hook’, or lack there-of. At the end of the novel is a sneak peek from the next book in the series. Naturally you’d want to grab the reader and, under the influence of extreme curiosity or excitement, have them insta-buy. I personally didn’t feel that compulsion. I wasn’t sure how the main character felt about his ending circumstances. This lack of clarity meant that there was no mystery, adventure or crisis I knew he’d be solving.
(That’s not to say I won’t read it in the future, only that I don’t immediately have to). It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoyed it for what it was.
Dear Reader if you’re an aspiring author, chances are you know how hard it is to get feedback on your writing. I’ve been helped in my development process by other beta readers and now it’s my turn to ‘pay it forward’. Each month I’ll read a chapter of someone’s story and comment on it. To be eligible, just comment on one of my posts with “*Review*” in the comment and you’re in the running. The odds are good, I don’t get many comments 🙂