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”What did Keats say? It’s beauty. Not just pretty truth. We have black hearts, but they’re beautiful.”

When Andrew Z. Thomas receives a bizarre letter in his mailbox explaining that there is a dead girl buried on his property, soaked in his blood, he at first thinks it is a prank being perpetrated by one of his fans. He is a horror writer and used to receiving...unusual...letters, but this one was different. After several stages of smirking at the audacity and shivering at the thought that it may be true, he finally grabs a shovel and follows the directions to the spot where the body is supposed to be.

The ground is soft.

covered in blood.

Most people would throw themselves on the mercy of law enforcement, but the letter specifically says if he doesn’t do what the killer wants, irrefutable evidence will be sent to the police.

Andy doesn’t want to go to jail.

He has made a living out of understanding evidence and even understanding how it can be fabricated. He decides to play along and see what this madman wants. In other words, he knows just enough to get himself, much, much deeper in trouble.

It can’t get much deeper than when he finds himself locked in a room in the middle of the desert under the complete control of the killer. He is being forced to read books from Poe to Plato. He is being programmed, but for what? Andy will be faced with more and more decisions, big decisions, life changing decisions. Can he live with what he will have to do to overcome his adversary? Is it always worthwhile to live? Is murder really the worst crime against humanity?

The publisher sent me a signed copy of this back in 2002. I didn’t really give it much thought. I just shelved it and thought at some point in time I would be in the right mood to read it. Recently, as I was organizing my library, and finally, for the first time in my life alphabetizing my books, I came across this book again. I’d kept it all these years because it was the author’s first book, but until I started watching Wayword Pines two weeks ago, I hadn’t put it together that I had the Pines guy’s first book. I decided while waiting for my copy of Pines to give Crouch’s first book a whirl.

Despite the fact that I absolutely disagreed with Andy’s line of thinking, I still couldn’t help but hang around and see how everything was going to work out for him. The book is certainly thrilling, at times grotesque, but not as graphic as I feared. The pacing was good and kept the pages turning. It certainly has made me more curious about what to expect from Pines. If you are looking for a quick, compelling read that will leave you with lingering thoughts about the true sanctity of life, then this book will do nicely.