Pines is the first book in Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines trilogy. Published in 2012 by Thomas & Mercer, it was quickly followed by Wayward in 2013 and then the final book in the series, The Last Town, in 2014. The trilogy has attracted acclaim for its genre-bending combination of science fiction and action thriller, with the protagonist, Ethan Burke, using his Secret Service skills to solve the mystery of the strangely idyllic Wayward Pines. In 2015, the series was adapted by Fox into the award-winning television series Wayward Pines, produced by M. Night Shyamalan.
This guide is based on the 2022 Ballantine Books e-book edition.
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Content Warning: The source material features depictions of abduction, imprisonment, torture, psychological manipulation and abuse, and mob violence.
The SuperSummary difference
Secret Service agent Ethan Burke regains consciousness after a car accident. At first, he doesn’t know who or where he is. Gradually, though, he recalls that he is a federal agent who recently arrived in the small town of Wayward Pines to investigate the disappearance of two other agents. His memory also brings the sense that although Wayward Pines looks like an idyllic small town, it hides dark secrets beneath the surface. This suspicion is confirmed by Beverly, a bartender who directs Ethan to what she claims is her home; in fact, when Ethan arrives, the abandoned house contains the mutilated corpse of one of his fellow agents, Agent Evans.
Ethan’s attempts to contact the outside world, including his wife, Theresa, and to gain information about the town are persistently thwarted by Sheriff Pope and, later, Dr. Jenkins. Particularly insidious are Dr. Jenkin’s efforts to shake Ethan’s hold on reality by referencing Ethan’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from being imprisoned and tortured as a soldier during the Gulf War. When Ethan resolves to leave town, despite townsfolk warning him against the plan, he finds himself unable to exit the area—all routes seem to lead back into Wayward Pines, whether by car or on foot. Sheriff Pope apprehends Ethan after this initial escape attempt, and Ethan’s circumstances deteriorate rapidly thereafter. He soon finds himself in a hospital, strapped to a bed, with Dr. Jenkins insisting Ethan must undergo surgery.
The perspective briefly switches to Ethan’s wife, Theresa. It is the day of Ethan’s memorial—he disappeared 15 months ago and is presumed dead. However, that night, she is approached by David Pilcher, who offers to take her to Ethan. When she refuses, Pilcher drugs her and her son, Ben.
Beverly arrives just in time to help Ethan flee the hospital. After, while they are in hiding, Beverly removes the tracker embedded in Ethan’s thigh and shares critical information from her own escape attempts, which ultimately led to Agent Evans’s demise. Their continuing resistance climaxes in a fête, a local custom in which, with a carnivalesque atmosphere, the residents of Wayward Pines, led by Sheriff Pope, hunt down and murder a transgressor. Ethan watches, powerless, as Beverly is murdered by the mob. He barely escapes himself by following her instructions. In another brief chapter from Theresa’s perspective, she watches her husband flee as their son sleeps. She and Ben have now lived in Wayward Pines for five years, watching as the attempts to integrate Ethan into the town fail.
When Ethan crosses the electric fence that borders the town, he faces humanoid predatory creatures. The creatures pursue him up a cliff wall as Ethan seeks one final clue: something that appears to be manmade carved into the mountain. What he saw turns out to be a vent. Ethan crawls inside and, after navigating a maze of vents, finds himself inside a huge complex. However, even the one apparent road away from the complex is marked as leading to Wayward Pines.
Ethan is captured in the complex and finally confronted by Sheriff Pope and David Pilcher, the billionaire who created Wayward Pines. Ethan recognizes him as Dr. Jenkins, the psychiatrist who tried to use Ethan’s PTSD to make him doubt his own senses. Pilcher finally reveals the secrets of Wayward Pines to Ethan by taking him, by helicopter, many miles into the surrounding pine forests. Pilcher tells Ethan that the creatures Ethan encountered, which they refer to as “abbies,” are an evolved form of the human species. This new apex predator now has the characteristics needed to survive the Earth that human-made climate change has wrought.
It has been nearly 2,000 years since 2012, the year that Ethan remembers entering Wayward Pines. Pilcher, foreseeing the decline and eventual end of humanity, bought the town and surrounding property in the 1980s. Then, through entrapment and abduction, he gathered enough people to populate the town and ensure the survival of the human species. He put everyone, including himself, into cryostasis. Now, nearly 2,000 years later, he has revived himself, the crew that manages the bunker, and the town’s residents. As far as Pilcher knows, they are the only remaining human settlement.
The residents do not know the whole truth about their predicament. Some of the residents integrate into the community better than others, but Ethan has been the most resistant. This current attempt at his integration is the third, and Pilcher has finally realized that Ethan’s stubborn perseverance could be an asset to him. Pilcher reveals that Theresa and Ben are also residents of Wayward Pines and have been waiting for him. As abbies begin to swarm, Pilcher offers Ethan the job of sheriff; once Ethan accepts, Pilcher takes off, leaving Pope behind to die.
After Ethan accepts his new role as Wayward Pines’s sheriff, he is finally reunited with his family. Together, they begin their new life in Wayward Pines.
By Blake Crouch