Coming to Television: Wayward Pines by Blake Crouch

The pilot episode of Wayward Pines was shown at San Diego Comic Con this year by none other than M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Village, Signs). Based on i09’s review of the episode, I gather that it got mixed reviews. The star-studded cast includes Matt Dillon, Terrance Howard, Juliette Lewis, Shannyn Sossamon, and a few other actors that appeared familiar. Despite it’s season one filming being complete, the series is slated for a mid-season (winter) start.

Why do I mention the new show? Well, four days ago I never had heard of the trilogy’s author, Blake Crouch. Then while trapped in a Tokyo hotel room with two toddlers sleeping, I came across the first book, Pines, while browsing Amazon on my iPad. I downloaded the book and four days later I had not read just one, but all three books in the trilogy.

0378 Crouch_Thicker Than Blood_2Blake Crouch admits the story’s inspiration comes from Twin Peaks, but I found the first book to be more reminiscent of Hugh Howey’s Wool. Secret Service officer, Ethan Burke, goes to a small town in Idaho to investigate the disappearance of two other officers. He is in an accident and wakes up in Wayward Pines with little memory about who he is.

The townspeople appear nice at first, but Ethan quickly realizes that things just don’t seem right. Worse yet, he can’t get in contact with his wife or the agency. He can’t even find his way out of the city.

Without spoiling any more of the novel, I will mention that like Wool, Pines is a novel about discovering reality. Science fiction elements are present, but slight, and by the end of the novel, the reader will completely understand the circumstances that Ethan finds himself in. I am not sure if it is an homage, but Blake even mentions in the novel revealing the secrets of Wayward Pines is like lifting the wool from people’s eyes.

Pines 2By the start of the second book, the story shifts from a book of discovery to a book of sociology. It is not a zombie book, but I would compare both the second and third books to The Walking Dead. What makes The Walking Dead the most popular television drama is not zombies, but the social interactions that take place in an isolated society. The enemy is more often the people themselves than the zombies trying to infiltrate their town.

The same is true with Wayward Pines. There is an interesting mix of people and relationships with different levels of knowledge about what the town really is. Ethan finds himself thrust in the middle of internal and external conflicts as he continues to dig deeper into the mysteries of the town. He also begins to learn how and why he got there was not just an accident, but a planned event.

As I mentioned, I plowed through the series in four days. I think this shows how readable the books are. They are page turners and also short in length. I found the premise plausible and the action was almost non-stop. The characters were not as developed as they could have been and I think this is a good opportunity for the television series to improve upon. Also, there is some cheesy dialog by the townspeople that withdrew me from the narrative.

Pines 3Despite these quibbles, I found the trilogy highly entertaining. It nicely blends the strange-world hook of Wool, the sociology of The Walking Dead, and the small town mechanics of Twin Peaks. Even if some of the relationships and interactions are formulaic, the premise gives a storyline that has great potential for being a television hit. Knowing the secrets of the town and story do not diminish from the intrigue of the community and I will plan on giving this show a shot this winter. I also plan on checking out some of Blake Crouch’s other novels to see what other worlds and stories he has developed.

If you want a thrilling popcorn read, Wayward Pines is a great place to start. There is lots of action with just enough science fiction to whet the appetite of genre fans while not alienating those who like their reality kept in check.