"In the West, the past is very close. In many places, it still believes it's the present." - John MastersThis is the quote Durango author Blake Crouch chose to kick off his third novel, Abandon.
And he succeeds in keeping the past and present as close as twins in the womb.
Abandon is Crouch's mining ghost town, 17 miles from Silverton.
In 1893, he has a mule skinner discover it empty without any people or bones. The residents had left their Christmas dinners on the table. He opens the book with this mystifying scene, reminiscent of the first one in the popular Left Behind series by Tim Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins where people disappeared from an airline in flight.
But unlike that series, despite its sales, Crouch's book doesn't disappoint after the strong first scene. He keeps up his surprising plotting and pacing to the end, though maybe the seemingly dead person who turns up alive isn't so innovative these days. And perhaps small-town folk in the century before last didn't depend so heavily on the Sopranos' favorite epithet.
Crouch weaves in the nineteenth-century story line with a 21st century expedition setting out to explore Abandon.
The protagonist of the newer part of the novel is Abigail, a New York journalist, who has been invited to Colorado by her estranged father, a history teacher.
They travel with a paranormal photographer and his wife, a pair perhaps inspired by their Durango counterparts, Michael and Susan Richardson, though I have no data on whether Susan Richardson is psychic. She does, however, work with her photographer husband, who is thanked in Crouch's credits. So are Durango historian Duane Smith, poet Haz Said and many other names you'll recognize.
Crouch intertwines his two story lines tightly, often using the same place to highlight the comparisons. Each century, for instance, has a scene in a Silverton hotel.
One of the book's most satisfying features is how Crouch keeps alive the possibilities of supernatural and natural explanations for the mystifying occurrences.
It's sophisticated fun, and he manages to bring the book to a conclusion without a bucket of blood, the lazy device that ruins so many thrillers.
Crouch is being published by Minotaur, an imprint of New York's St. Martin's Press. If anyone can promote a commercial thriller, it's St. Martin's. I see no reason why this shouldn't be Crouch's breakthrough book and even an A-list film.