Fiction Reviews

Wayward Pines 1: Pines

(2012/ 2023) Blake Crouch, Pan, £9.99, pbk, 294pp, ISBN 978-1-529-09979-9


US Secret Service agent, Ethan Burke, comes conscious in a field. Apparently, he has been in a car accident in the isolated, small village of Wayward Pines: a typical piece of wooded rural Americana somewhere in Idaho. His memory, of who he is, is fragmentary but slowly returns. Though not before relapsing and being taken to hospital. There he gets incomplete answers and wonders why he seems to be the only patient. Not yet fully recovered, he leaves the hospital and begins to explore the village. From the off, some things – little things – do not seem right. People do not seem to believe him when he says who he is. The children seem a little scared of him. Why do the sounds of insect crickets come from little speakers in bushes? Why, when he phones the Seattle secret service field station can he not be passed on to his immediate superior? And why, when he finally commandeers a car and leaves Wayward Pines, does he find himself back on the road into town…

Now, the premise of the strange village no-one can leave is not new to SF, though more often that not this trope has a supernatural element to it. However, Blake Crouch's Pines has a feel more like the first episode of The Prisoner, 'Arrival' in which agent John Drake (played by Patrick McGoohan) wakes up in the 'Village', an isolated, controlled settlement from which there is no escape. The 'Village', it quickly transpires, is a retirement home (run by we know not whom) for spies from whom information is sought.  In Pines the rationale for the Wayward Pines settlement is decidedly more SFnal than fantasy horror… No spoilers.

For years I had always pegged Blake Crouch as a thriller writer, and while he does pen thrillers, the only one I have previously read (Upgrade) is decidedly science fiction and so when I learned that Pan was publishing the 'Wayward Pines' trilogy over here in Britain, I thought I'd give it ago, especially as I had seen the trailer for the TV series that came out a few years ago, but I strongly suggest you steer clear of that due to spoilers as the conceit of this novel is the puzzling world in which our protagonist finds himself: there are lots of little reveals and at least three big ones.

Having said that, this novel, the first in a trilogy, is the ideal media format for the story. If it had to be made for the screen then my guess is that it would be better as a film than a TV series as the latter would either need lots of padding or episodes written for it that were not explicitly in the novel. (Other than excerpts, I have not seen the TV series so here I may be talking rubbish.) However, as a novel it is tightly written and is a proverbial easy-read page-turner (I read it in just three sittings) with the sense-of-wonder keeping coming on as we get reveal after reveal about Wayward Pines and, indeed, the world beyond. Here, as our protagonist muses, when he discovers a powerful electric fence deep in the woods surrounding the village, is this here to keep people in, or something out…?

According to the novel's copyright masthead page, this novel was originally published by Thomas & Mercer in the US a decade ago in 2012. It also tells us that this Pan edition is its first publication in the British Isles. As said, I don't sense that Blake Crouch has a big following in the SF community and his publishers do seem to like marketing him as a thriller writer, so they don't seem to promote him to the SF community. Yet, for my money he is an author of solid reads that SF readers will want to check out.

As said, no spoilers, but here is a tease… This is definitely not a quiet Earth!

Jonathan Cowie


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