The Last Town: A Wayward Pines Thriller
Blake Crouch never disappoints. I am reticent to read close-ended trilogies because it has been my experience that the last book is never as good as the first. This is not always the case, but it has happened often enough that I have been snake-bit, if you will. I wasn’t worried when I started reading PINES, the first volume of Crouch’s groundbreaking Wayward Pines trilogy. And now that the final installment, THE LAST TOWN, has been published, my faith has been rewarded one hundredfold.
The best way to enjoy this trilogy is to get all three books --- PINES, WAYWARD and THE LAST TOWN --- and read them in one sitting. This is not as challenging as it may sound. The hallmark of Crouch’s work from his debut novel, DESERT PLACES, has been its readability. His writing is strong and his pacing perfect; the pages just fly by. It is convenient to pigeonhole Crouch into the thriller genre, but his work ultimately defies easy characterization. THE LAST TOWN, like the preceding volumes, has elements of horror, mystery, science fiction and romance. With regard to the latter, he has two romantic triangles going that have been simmering and now come to a full boil, as do a number of other plot lines that have been building.
"Even if you don’t read science fiction --- or thrillers, horror novels, mysteries or romances --- you should give THE LAST TOWN a serious try. If you’ve tackled the first two volumes of the series, you already know that."
So how do I describe what happens in THE LAST TOWN for those readers who are unfamiliar with what has gone before, without giving away the grand design behind the trilogy yet revealing enough to get them interested? Here goes: Wayward Pines is an almost idyllic municipality. You could call it isolated, though cut-off wouldn’t be too strong a word, either. Everything outside of Wayward Pines is very bad --- so bad, actually, that there is only one way to leave the place. Everything inside Wayward Pines is...well, I don’t know if you would call it good, but it sure seems that way, and it’s a heck of a lot better than what lies outside the town limits.
At the end of WAYWARD, the good citizens of Wayward Pines learn the truth about the town and themselves. At the beginning of THE LAST TOWN, things in Wayward Pines begin to go very badly when its creator --- the genius behind the veil who stands in plain sight in front of it and who fancies himself as humankind’s last hope --- throws what might be accurately called, within the confines of the story, the world’s biggest hissyfit by opening up the gates of the town and letting that which is outside of the city come within.
What happens next pretty much occupies the book’s first half, and you may want to get a note from your doctor before you commence reading, just to make sure that you are physically capable of handling it. Alternatively, you might leave a note on your lap that reads, “If found dead while reading, it’s all Blake Crouch’s fault.” Your cardiovascular system will get a passive workout during the first half of the book, when things in Wayward Pines go completely wrong. How bad does it get? Let’s just say THE LAST TOWN demonstrates that nature is dangerous, and no more so than when humankind is no longer at the top of the food chain. Crouch may have made a point he didn’t intend to make, but there it is.
It’s also important to note that if you have a heavy emotional investment in any particular character, you may be disappointed as he or she may not be around (in more ways than one) by the conclusion of THE LAST TOWN. However, things do get sorted out before they get even worse, as yet another revelation leads to a startling conclusion. And oh, sweet heaven, it’s quite a conclusion. I screamed at the last sentence (no peeking), but don’t tell anyone. Crouch probably did intend for that to happen, but you never know. Watch out for that lad. He’ll scare you even when he isn’t trying.
Even if you don’t read science fiction --- or thrillers, horror novels, mysteries or romances --- you should give THE LAST TOWN a serious try. If you’ve tackled the first two volumes of the series, you already know that. I can’t wait to see what the television series looks like, but that’s another story. For now, we have this excellent book and trilogy by one of our finest contemporary authors. It will make hair you don’t have stand on end. I’m not entirely sure that this truly is the end of the story, but that decision is above my pay grade. If Crouch has a trick or two up his sleeve in that regard, we’ll all be surprised together.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 18, 2014