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Special Agent Ethan Burke enters the bucolic, quaintly pretty valley town of Wayward Pines, Idaho to investigate the disappearance of two colleagues; but once he arrives, he finds that he cannot leave. Pines, written by Blake Crouch, is a chilling science fiction thriller—the first in a series of three novels—in which nothing is as it appears to be. Following a horrific car “accident,” Agent Burke awakes with no ID, no gun, no money, no cell phone, and no way out.
Struggling to contact the outside world, Agent Burke cannot contact his wife or his office by telephone. He leaves messages for his wife in voicemail, but she never calls him back; the office phone is answered by a strange person who does not help him. Even more ominously, when he steals a car to escape by road, somehow he always ends up back in Wayward Pines. Exploring an escape route on foot through the woods, he discovers that an electrified fences surrounding the town. Is the fence keeping something in, or something out?
Meanwhile, Wayward Pines, and all the people in it, including Sherriff Pope, strive to keep their terrible secrets. Crouch admits modelling this novel after the television show Twin Peaks. The spooky ambiance of the town and the oddly-cheerful but also threatening personalities of the townspeople, all set Agent Burke’s intuition on edge, even as he cannot convince anyone that he is who he says he is. Soon enough, Burke realizes that he may never leave Wayward Pines alive.
As he explores the town, he finds one of his fellow agents dead and the other alive— Kate Hewson, who happens to be his ex-lover. Oddly, she is fifteen years older than when he last saw her just a few weeks before, and she is married to a man named Harold. Even more weirdly, she doesn’t seem to be able to help him, only telling him that he is not crazy. Agent Burke, who has also been experiencing memory problems since his accident, is relieved—but in no way comforted—to hear this.
As he continues to investigate, he discovers that the crickets chirping in the night air are recordings coming from speakers hidden in the bushes, while cameras and recording devices are planted all over town. Clearly, Wayward Pines’ apparently utopian, but very creepy, vibe is a fake. Who or what is in control, and for what purpose?
After a mob rips apart a woman named Beverly, who wanted to escape Wayward Pines, Agent Burke flees into the woods, desperate for answers.
Throughout the novel, the significant theme of the effects of mystery and the unknown upon the essential nature of human beings comes into play. For Agent Burke, nothing but the truth will suffice. He survives and perseveres to find the answers he seeks, but the answers are nothing like he ever could have imagined.
Additionally, the third person, limited-omniscient point of view, which tells the story from Agent Burke’s perspective, supports the mystery theme; readers learn only what Agent Burke learns as he learns it. This device builds tension and suspense throughout the plot, particularly as mysterious breaks in time appear. For example, Burke continually relives his experiences as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot during the Iraq War, including his capture and torture by the enemy, and he finds other strange gaps in his memory. In addition, Beverly believes the year to be 1986, while Burke believes it to be 2012.
Agent Burke encounters humanoid creatures in the woods who attempt to kill him, but he escapes. Moving deeper into the wilderness, he discovers a massive base. He is captured when he breaks into the complex, and he is taken to the leader—David Pilcher. Pilcher explains that Agent Burke and all the others have actually been in suspended animation for over 1,500 years, and that they are the only human beings left alive on the planet. Pilcher has assumed responsibility for saving the human race, the species Homo sapiens, and Wayward Pines was the result. Wayward Pines is literally the last town on Earth. All of civilization surrounding the little colony is gone, and the humanoid creatures Burke encountered in the woods are all that is left of a “human” legacy.
Now aware of the truth and the dangers both within Wayward Pines and without, Agent Burke agrees to protect Wayward Pines as the new sheriff. Burke is reunited with his wife, Teresa, and son, Ben.
With its thriller plotline and suspenseful atmosphere, Pines consists of a mystery which mirrors the mystery of the human mind and its development. Apparently, without help, human beings can easily devolve into beasts and the underlying theme of the novel remains the fragility of human beings and their civilization.