Book Review: The House in the Pines by Ana Reyes

Armed with only hazy memories, a woman who long ago witnessed her friend’s sudden, mysterious death, and has since spent her life trying to forget, sets out to track down answers. What she uncovers, deep in the woods, is hardly to be believed. Read on for Doreen Sheridan's review!

Maya is just starting to get her life back on track when she sees a viral video, and learns that the man who got away with killing her best friend Aubrey when they were teenagers has done it again. The video itself seems fairly innocuous. Grainy security footage shows a man and a woman walking into a diner, ordering some food and having a conversation. Next thing you know, the woman collapses onto the table, dead. Tragic, but hardly indicative of foul play.

But Maya recognizes the man in the video as her ex-boyfriend Frank, who had nearly come between her and Aubrey seven years ago. Maya had witnessed the two having a seemingly innocent conversation right before Aubrey dropped dead, just like the woman in the video had. Back then, she had been convinced that Frank had killed Aubrey somehow, but no one had believed her; not the cops, not her mom, and certainly not the psychiatrist her mom hired to help Maya cope with her grief:

He said her fears about Frank were delusional but assured her that she wasn’t the first to react with magical thinking to a death so sudden and unexpected. Less than two out of every hundred thousand people suddenly drop dead for reasons that can’t be explained by an autopsy.


Some cultures blame such deaths on evil spirits. The mind will always try to explain what it can’t understand–it will make up stories, theories, whole belief systems–and Maya’s mind, Dr. Barry said, was of the type that saw faces in clouds and messages in tea leaves. Patterns where others saw none. It meant she had a good imagination–but one that could trick her.

In the aftermath of this trauma, Maya flees her hometown for college in Boston, throwing herself into partying and barely scraping her way to a degree. Along the way, she meets Dan, a solid, dependable law student. She doesn’t expect to fall in love, but the two establish a strong connection that lasts far longer than she’d ever believed possible. 

Their bond is tested when a series of poor choices involving prescription drugs, alcohol, and secret-keeping leads to a particularly mortifying episode involving his parents. Maya decides to head back home to dry out and, more importantly, attempt to lay her fears about Frank to rest. As with everyone else in her life, Dan doesn’t really understand her paranoia about her ex. There are, after all, plenty of reasonable alternatives for why the young woman in the video had suddenly collapsed, that have nothing to with Frank being some sort of mystic murderer:

Cristina could have gotten high right before she and Frank walked into the diner. That would explain how she’d seemed okay walking in, perfectly upright, only for the drugs to hit her when she sat down. Maya could picture this. She knew how easy it was to lose track of how many pills you had taken or what all you’d added to the cocktail. She wondered if this was ultimately what she shared with the dead woman, something other than dark hair and eyes: the tendency to get very high sometimes, as if trying to rise above the world on a bed of clouds.

Coming back to Pittsfield turns out to be a better choice than Maya had hoped for, as it gives her the opportunity not only to play sleuth, but also to recover the manuscript her late Guatemalan father had been working on before he was murdered himself. She and Frank had originally bonded over Guatemala, and now Maya wonders whether the key to this mystery lies in the words her father wrote before she was even born. Can she find something within his manuscript’s pages that will help protect her as she readies herself to confront Frank about Aubrey?

This was an unusual thriller that does a truly impressive job of straddling that fine line between fantasy and believability. While utterly rooted in logic, the book is rich with supernatural tinges, really immersing the reader in Maya’s fanciful, and occasionally horrifying, reality. I personally wasn’t a fan of Dan, but I really enjoyed the exploration of Maya’s troubled relationships otherwise, particularly with Aubrey and with her mom. It was also great to see the contrast between the way Maya was treated by the cops in the present day versus just seven years ago, as policing continues to evolve.

Definitely pick up this book if your favorite aspect of the psychological thriller genre is the psychological. Saying any more would be giving away the novel’s clever, surprising and ultimately satisfying big twist.

Learn More Or Order A Copy


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