I promised no spoilers in my review of the first Wayward Pines book, but no such promise exists in this post. There are spoilers aplenty to be found here, about Pines, and also about Wayward. If you want to maximize suspense while reading these books, don’t go any further.
I don’t think there’s any way to talk about Wayward without giving away important plot points in Pines. So here goes. First, no, the residents of Wayward Pines are not robots as in The Stepford Wives. And yes, that is actually Ethan’s real wife and son living in Wayward Pines when Ethan shows up, and yes, they are actually five years older than they were the last time Ethan saw them. And the person who says she’s his ex-partner Kate Hewson is actually his ex-partner, despite the fact that she seems to have aged more than ten years since they last saw each other a year or so ago. So what the hell is going on, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you.
Sometime in the 1970s a brilliant young scientist named David Pilcher figures out that the human race as we know it is going to become extinct within thirty or forty generations because of genetic mutations brought on by all of the chemicals and pollution we have set loose on the planet. He spends his lifetime trying to figure out how to save humanity, or rather, prolong its existence. He develops suspended animation techniques and recruits about a hundred and fifty people to help him, and then press-gangs about six hundred more folks into becoming the residents of his little outpost, known as Wayward Pines. So Wayward Pines is a real town in Idaho in the twenty-first century, but it’s also reborn eighteen hundred years in the future when Pilcher and his crew wake up. I have no idea why he decided on that time frame, but I think it may have had something to do with time he thought it would take the planet to recover from all the damage we did to it. Pilcher choose poorly, however, because the earth has been taken over by creatures that the crew refers to as aberrations, or “abbys.” They’re obviously humanoid, but are pure predators who have talons instead of nails, and arms that are longer than their legs (no idea where the evolutionary advantage is there, unless it’s so they can reach into trees more efficiently), and who communicate via pheromones and screaming. Towards the end of Pines Ethan finds himself on the other side of the electric fence, which was built to keep the abbys out, of course, and tangles with a group of them, barely escaping with his life. In his flight from the abbys, he finds an air duct entrance to “the mountain,” where Pilcher and all of his crew live and spy on/protect the residents of Wayward Pines. Everyone in the mountain knows the truth, and essentially no one in town does. Anyone who suspects or tries to figure out what’s beyond the town ends up having a fête thrown in their honor. And the reason why Kate Hewson has aged more than Theresa and Ben? Staged awakenings of residents, of course.
At the end of Pines, Sheriff Pope is killed by a group of abbys, and Ethan is given the job of sheriff of Wayward Pines. I guess Pilcher figures he may as well make good use of Ethan’s special set of skills. He is living with his wife and son, and they’re trying to make things work. Of course, no one can have a real conversation with anyone, because discussing the outside world, their former lives, or anything that could be considered truly honest is forbidden. People are just supposed to accept where they are and live in the moment. Ethan has a really hard time with that, especially where his wife and son are concerned. Eventually he tells Theresa everything.
But first things first. One night Ethan runs over a dead body on the road into/out of town. Turns out it’s Alyssa Pilcher, the boss’s daughter. She was supposedly infiltrating a group of townies called “wanderers,” who have all learned where their tracking chips are and have removed them. They still carry them around with them during the day, but a few nights a month they leave them at home and meet up in a cave in the mountains that surround Wayward Pines. To do what, no one knows. Turns out Kate Hewson is a member of this group and Pilcher wants Ethan to infiltrate the group, using their former relationship as a way in. Which he does, but with more in mind than investigating Alyssa’s murder. The group is not a revolutionary cell at all; they just want to get together and talk openly about their old lives, about people they left behind and who they think are still out there looking for them. They don’t know that there’s no one out there, and Ethan can’t take it. He investigates the murder of Alyssa Pilcher and learns who is responsible. (One guess: it’s not anyone who lives in town. A hint: the person who killed Alyssa has the same last name as she does, and there are only two Pilchers alive in the thirty-ninth century.) At the end of the novel he shows all the people in town the video evidence that Ted, the mountain head of surveillance, has uncovered. He also catches an Abby and shows it to everyone in town. He gambles on Pilcher’s love of his creation to keep the townies safe. He loses that gamble.
Oh, one more thing. I mentioned Ethan’s boss Adam Hassler in my post about Pines, remember? Apparently, he’s also in Wayward Pines, kind of. He has been out on a mission of exploration for about four years and is heading home while Ethan is investigating Alyssa’s murder. There are a few chapters in Wayward told from his point of view. He lived with Theresa and Ben when they all first arrived in Wayward Pines and it seems that he has been in love with Theresa for years. His identity is not revealed until the very end of the novel, and how he came to be in Wayward Pines isn’t revealed until, I think, the third novel. The problem with reading the second two books so quickly and in sequence is that when some things are revealed is a bit fuzzy. We do learn in this book that Adam Hassler was very much in love with Theresa Burke in the twenty-first century, and resented Ethan. A lot. We learn that he’s the one who sent Ethan to Wayward Pines, and that he knew when he did it that it meant the end of Ethan’s present-day life. How Hassler got involved with Pilcher remains a mystery.
I wish I could say with certainty what motivates David Pilcher to murder his daughter when he finds out that she wants to tell the residents of Wayward Pines the truth of their existence. We never do find that out. Crouch really could have elevated these novels if he had spent a bit more time developing his characters. The suspense/action/sci-fi elements are spot-on, and the characters we spend time with have the potential to become well-developed individuals. I wish I could say that happens in The Last Town, but it doesn’t. Mostly, in that book, a lot of people get eaten by the descendants of humanity. But I’ll tell you about that on Monday.