by Blake Crouch
I went into this book knowing nothing about it. You need to understand that when you live on the other side of the world, you don’t get the ads for the new Fox TV show starring Matt Dillon. On Amazon, it had eight thousand reviews, 4 stars. It was my genre, which is to say scifi and mystery. OK, I’ll bite.
Please note, I will include spoilers. The book’s been out for about 5 years, and the TV show for 2, so if you still must remain in the dark then please avert your gaze now.
I think that Mr. Crouch was successful in a couple of ways. First, he starts by hooking you with a police procedural. For those of you who like this kind of thing, it is pretty satisfying. Agent goes to podunk town surrounded by beautiful mountain and, you guessed it, pines. He’s going in search of another agent. He once had an affair with this agent, so lots of tension there.
Turn a corner and it becomes a Stephen King novel. You thought you were just in a town out looking for an agent. There are a couple of clues. But then the town starts acting weird, like there’s a conspiracy, or maybe a bunch of demonic children in the corn fields. This is good, too. I think King sometimes needs an editor to cut his word count by 30-40% most of the time, but he’s great at creating a sense of dread. So does Crouch.
Mr. Crouch’s writing style is clipped, sometimes sounding like a noir novel. In at least one case, the clipped language read more like a poem than prose. It can get on your nerves a little bit, though. I wanted to introduce him to the Oxford comma on more than one occasion.
Back to the story. The hero starts to fight against the children of the corn. He tries to escape once, is brought back, then escapes again. This time for sure. Then he climbs a cliff and finds himself chased by an evil monster with claws. He defeats it with smarts, not with muscle. That’s cool too.
By about this time, I’m thinking that this is totally a monster story. Stephen King all the way. But then our hero gets into the secret villain subterranean base. And he finds a bunch of folks working in labs. Maybe it’s not about supernatural monsters. Maybe it’s about genetically designed monsters.
Only, it’s not. It turns out that they have all been put into cryogenic sleep and woken up millennia into the future, and they’re the only remaining humans on earth. They’ve been awakened, and tested to see if they’ll remain sane in the post apocalyptic dystopia that an insane scientist has created.
What’s so bad about that? Nothing really. But… Well, something small. The novel spent 90% of the pages on unraveling a mystery, then hits the reader with a ten page exposition on what really happened to the world. I bought the next book, so I clearly liked it, but if I had to point out a flaw it would be that. The big reveal was tell-y.
In the afterword, the author writes that he was inspired by Twin Peaks, of David Lynch fame. I can see the elements. It is also a very different story.