Sometimes it can be hard to be a writer that flounders around at the lower end of the literary spectrum such as myself. I like to think I create fairly decent thrillers, chillers and tales of mystery and suspense (such as my latest, a hard-boiled detective novel called “Deklan Falls: One Against Many“). I have dreams, like many, of writing nothing but books and novels and not spending days behind a desk in an office. I always feel like I am close to that big breakthrough. Then, of course, along comes someone like Blake Crouch and I have to wonder just what the hell I am doing.
I read Blake’s novel RUN just about a year or so ago. I downloaded it to my Kindle. I was hooked immediately. I was literally on the edge of my seat for the entire novel and since I finished reading it, I have recommended it to so many people that I am quite sure most Kindle fans must think Blake is paying me to do so (he isn’t). It is, quite simply, one of the finest thrillers I have read in years.
So, it was with great anticipation that I awaited the release of his new novel PINES. It came out this week and was downloaded to my Kindle Tuesday morning. I just finished it.
Dammit…he’s done it again. Blake Crouch, I mean.
This is a novel that doesn’t just hit the ground running, it slams into the ground, making it shake violently, and then pummels the hell out of it from the very first page. It sprints along at a break-neck pace that leaves the reader breathless, always feeling just a little bit behind the story, looking to catch up with each turn of the page or flick of the page button on the Kindle. And when the story finishes, you, dear reader, will be breathless, exhausted, panting as if you had just run a marathon, but wishing there was more.
The novel seems to start off as a standard mystery. Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke awakens near a river just outside of the small town of Wayward Pines – a tiny hamlet surrounded by towering cliffs and mountains on all sides. Burke has memories of being in a terrible accident where a Mack truck T-boned his vehicle. He had been sent to Wayward Pines to investigate the disappearance of two other agents. His memory is faulty. He can barely remember his own name and his head hurts.
He ends up in the hospital, but something is wrong there. As he begins to try and start his investigation into the missing agents, the seemingly idyllic town turns openly hostile towards him. Paranoia sets in for Burke, then outright fear, and the reader goes right along with him.
Crouch explored some of these themes in RUN – where the entire world seems to turn against other members of society. Creepy things begin to happen. Burke is hopelessly outnumbered, but what is going on in this strange town? Why do people seem to remember the dates all wrong? Why can’t he make an outgoing phone call? Why does everything about Wayward Pines seem wrong and are the electrified fences that also encircle the town meant to keep people in, or keep something out?
Each page reveals a new twist. It is nearly impossible to out-guess this brilliantly crafted story – so just go along with it. It is truly a roller coaster ride with so many twists and turns that you might end up with mental whiplash.
Crouch crafts characters that are fully formed, all-too real in your imagination. So, with each twist and turn your own heart races for them. You find yourself fully vested in their welfare, which makes the pulse-pounding action and suspense even more nail-biting and intense. This is a book that not only will keep you on the edge of your seat, but up very late into the night.
Crouch is a major talent. I cannot wait to see what he comes up with next. He is also a major force in indie publishing, having decided to release RUN last year via Amazon’s Kindle platform when other publishers turned it down. As such, I admire him for his writing skills and for his willingness to take chances and strike out on his own.
PINES will grip you from the first paragraph and will not release you until the end. That is the most you can ever hope for in a thriller. It is, without a doubt, one of the best books of the year and one of the best thrillers in years.
I just wish Crouch wasn’t setting the bar so high. Those of us jumping for the bottom rung of the ladder have a lot to live up to.