Pines did. I originally picked this up a few months ago, after hearing it favorably compared to Twin Peaks, but I didn't really have any concrete plans as to when I'd give it a read. Sure, hearing that Blake Crouch shared my agonizing frustration with that series-ending cliffhanger served to whet my appetite even further ("How's Annie?" indeed, Agent Cooper), but I had a pretty busy summer of back-to-back series reads planned.
Then, of course, the good folks at Thomas & Mercer had to go and offer me an ARC for Wayward, the second book in the series. How could I refuse? Suddenly, I had another back-to-back series read suddenly wedged into my schedule . . . and what a read that first book was!
Reminding me as much (and perhaps even more) of The Twilight Zone and Nowhere Man, with a healthy dose of The X-Files and The Prisoner mixed in, this is a story that starts out kind of creepy and strange, gets weirder as it goes on, and then twists into something completely unexpected by the end. I'm finding it a hard book to write about without getting knee-deep in spoilers, simply because the twists are very much integral to the story. It all starts with a gentleman waking up beside a stream-bed, battered, bruised, disoriented, and missing not just his wallet, keys, and cellphone, but his memory. He sets out, naturally enough, to find some clue as to who he is, where he is, and what's happened to him.
As it turns out, those answers are far harder to come by than we might expect, and the answers we do get only open up deeper mysteries. It's a confusing way to enter the story, but Crouch does an amazing job of forcing us to identify with Ethan Burke, making us share in his frustrated disorientation. However, it's not until he discovers the tiny speaker hidden in the bushes, artificially providing the noise of night-time crickets, that the shivers really begin to creep up your spine. By the time he finds himself hospitalized against his will, the only patient in an otherwise empty floor, with a too-perfect nurse who seems incapable of delivering upon the smallest promise, we really begin to wonder what's going on.
I could go on and on about the too-difficult sheriff, the too-kind bartender, the dead body in the abandoned house, the urgent calls home that go unanswered, the creepy kids, and the entire Mayberry-esque town of Wayward Pines, but that only brings us through the first few chapters.
Pines is a book that wastes no time on pleasantries or filler. It's a fast-paced thriller where every scene matters, where every interaction is of significant consequence. To Crouch's credit, he maintains the suspense throughout, never faltering in the way he keeps us on edge. I really had no idea what was going on, but I was completely invested in finding out. Thanks largely to a back-story involving Gulf War torture and marital infidelity, Burke makes for sympathetic protagonist. We want him to find the answers as much for himself as for us, and that's what makes the novel really work.
Having said all that, the ending was a little - okay, a lot - more 'out there' than I anticipated, to the point where I really had to think about whether or not it satisfied me. It was bold and brilliant, absolutely, but far from what I was expecting. Looking back, there are certainly enough clues to back it up, so it doesn't feel like a cheat, and it really does provide that same feeling of being kicked in the stomach that The Twilight Zone did so well. I suspect I won't know whether I liked it or not until I get through Wayward, but I certainly admire the audacity of it.
A great read, and given that I devoured the final 200 pages in one sitting, I can honestly say it's one you won't be able to put down.
Published August 21st 2012 by Thomas & Mercer
Kindle Edition, 315 pages