Last year’s novel Pines was good enough to backbone a TV mini-series by M. Night Shyamalan, set to premiere on Fox next year. Author Blake Crouch’s follow up, Wayward, (September 17; Thomas and Mercer), is even better. With its dialogue-driven plot and balls-to-the walls pacing, it already flaunts the punchy wordplay of an excellent TV series. Even after considering M. Night’s past flubs (and admittedly, there are many), this is going to be a hard mini-series to jack up; Crouch’s books are just that good.
Pines saw Secret Service agent Ethan Burke waking up in Wayward Pines, a secluded town deep in the forests of Idaho, severely injured after an apparent car accident. Days of concussed, amnesia-driven investigation led Ethan to eventually discover that the entire town was surrounded by an electric fence and under constant electronic surveillance. Nobody comes into Wayward Pines, nobody leaves, and the townsfolk are willing to mob-kill anyone who tries. Is it a government experiment? An episode of The Twilight Zone? The afterlife? Pines concluded with a soul-shattering cliffhanger, as the secret of Wayward Pines was finally revealed to Ethan (a secret I will not divulge here).
Crouch’s sequel finds Ethan not only a voluntary resident of Wayward Pines, but its full-time sheriff. He‘s prohibitted from divulging the town’s dark secret, but when forced to investigate the vicious stabbing murder of one of the townsfolk, Ethan’s loyalties are severely tested. Was the victim murdered by “The Wanderers”, a group of rebels lurking on the outskirts of Wayward Pines? Or someone in town? Does Ethan continue to keep his big secret for the benefit of the 461 residents who occupy the mountain village? Or is it better to tell the truth, at the risk of losing a few dozen citizens? And perhaps most importantly, what’s going on with the misshapen mutant creatures that lurk beyond the fence?
I don’t mean to sound intentionally vague, but based on Pines and Wayward, Crouch’s series is happily mired in the sort of juicy, small-town secrets that keep the pages turning––and I don’t want to spoil any surprises for the uninitiated. Like some, I spent of much of Pines wondering if the mysterious plot was going to pay off. But Crouch not only ended Pines with a cliffhanger keen enough to make Stephen King blush in shame, he carried that self-same confidence right into the first chapters of Wayward. Make no mistake–– this is an author who knows exactly what he‘s doing. Fans of Pines (of which I consider myself a proud member) will blaze through this riveting sequel like a forest fire. Just prep yourself for another borderline-cruel cliffhanger going into book three.
Rating:4.5 out of 5 Skulls