26 September 2023

The House in the Pines

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Reviewed by Robert Goodman.

By Ana Reyes, Hachette, $32.99.

Ana Reyes’ debut The House in the Pines is upfront about the potential unreliability of its narrator. Maya has decided to come off klonopin and is drinking to compensate. Her memory is fractured and she is just holding things together. So that while she seems to be the only one willing to investigate the sudden, unexplained death of a woman in her home town, she is also possibly the least qualified.

The incident that spurs Maya into action is the death of a young woman called Cristina Lewis in similar circumstances to the death of her best friend Aubrey seven years before. Both deaths were not only sudden but both were in the presence of Maya’s ex-boyfriend Frank Bellamy. The viral video of Cristina’s death also shows Bellamy and while he appears to have nothing to do with the incident, Maya is not so sure. Maya returns to her home town to both investigate Cristina’s death but also to battle with her own addiction demons. In doing so she will dig into the past, re-examine her relationships with Frank and with Audrey, and find that these memories may hold clues to the present.

Reyes builds a solid, if slightly far-fetched, thriller around Maya. Maya’s fight with addiction, a problem which started with her response to Aubrey’s death, adds interesting layers to her struggle to uncover the truth. Possibly a little too coincidental is the unfinished novel by her Guatemalan father who died before she was born which seems to hold some hints to the situation that she finds herself in. Maya’s connection to Guatemala and her Guatemalan family, while not essential to the plot, does add some colour to the narrative.

The House in the Pines an interesting and in some ways experimental thriller with a fairly scary (if not particularly believable) premise. It is winningly centred around a flawed, damaged heroine who it is easy to side with and cheer for as things get darker. Reyes says in her afterward that this novel was adapted from her Masters of Fine Arts thesis. After such a capable debut it will be interesting to see what she delivers next.

Over 900 more book reviews can be found on Pile by the Bed.

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