Maya is living a quiet life with her boyfriend Dan and trying to ween herself off a prescription drug addiction that she’s managed to hide from her friends and family. Her progress is halted when she sees a disturbing video of a young woman dying in a café, and she recognises the man with her as her ex-boyfriend Frank. Several years earlier, Maya accused Frank of murdering her best friend Aubrey but she couldn’t prove it, and her mother sent her to see a psychologist believing her daughter was struggling with her mental health. With Frank back in her life, Maya is determined to find out how he’s murdering women and returns home to face her demons and finally find answers.
‘The House in the Pines’ has seen its UK release brought forward after the book was selected by actress Reese Witherspoon for her book club. The debut novel of Ana Reyes, there’s been plenty of buzz and certainly the concept will be enough to intrigue those who enjoy a good mystery thriller. Reyes chooses to tell her story by jumping between the present and the past in alternating chapters, slowly providing the background to the death of Maya’s friend Aubrey while pushing forward Maya’s investigation in the current day.
When the reader meets Maya she’s a mess. Suffering withdrawal from drugs and turning to alcohol for solace, she’s barely holding it together. Her caring boyfriend Dan suspects nothing but when Maya suddenly leaves their home to return to her mother’s, it becomes abundantly clear that Maya is struggling. Trying to keep the real reason for her return secret, Maya wastes no time trying to find out more about Frank and how he’s connected to the young woman she saw die in the viral video.
I feared early on in ‘The House in the Pines’ that Reyes may be setting up a story that wouldn’t be able to conclude satisfactorily. Mysteries such as these often rely on the reader abandoning reality and Reyes teases that there could be supernatural elements to the story she’s telling. These don’t come to fruition and the eventual revelation is one more grounded in reality but that unfortunately doesn’t make it any more believable. In fact, the conclusion doesn’t actually properly conclude the story, which left this reader feeling short changed and underwhelmed.
For a book titled ‘The House in the Pines’, the titular house plays a relatively small part in the story. We don’t even reach it until around the half way point of the book and by that time Reyes’ story begins to stretch thin. At times overwritten, the book goes into far too much detail in some aspects such as the death of Maya’s father and the book he left behind, and not into enough detail when it comes to the central mystery. The character of Frank is revealed slowly and initially who he is and what he means to Maya is unclear to the reader.
I had high hopes for ‘The House in the Pines’ but unfortunately the book didn’t live up to its potential. If you’re familiar with these kinds of stories, you’ll see the twists coming early on and like me you’ll be disappointed by the way the story comes together. In the current climate, there was a real opportunity here to explore the power dynamics that still exist between men and women in relationships, and make a poignant statement about gaslighting and its dangers. Reyes chooses to do neither, scratching gently at the surface of her story but never digging deep enough to really engage the reader.
Publisher: Constable Publication date: 19th January 2023 Buy ‘The House in the Pines’ now