A few years ago I took up a mentorship through the HWA at Rue Morgue. It was a great experience, I worked with Monica S. Kuebler as my mentor, and learned how to hone my craft. Covering Scares That Care 3 for the site proved to be eyeopening to me, and as a result, I switched my focus to writing fiction.
Some of my reviews went in the magazine, some went on their blog site. One of the positive reviews I wrote for Rue Morgue’s blog, was for Brian Keene’s The Complex. As this is no longer available on their site, what the heck… I’ll post it here. Brian called this review his favorite review for the book, so it needs a life online…What happens when you combine Dexter with Elric of Melnibone and stick him in Fort Apache/Assault on Precinct 13? Brian Keene’s The Complex.
With his new novel (out now from Deadite Press), Keene’s taking no prisoners. But this isn’t exactly the Keene we are used to; the prose is subtly different, almost reminiscent of A.A. Milne in its simplicity, an ingredient this story very much requires. He has cut off any fat that will distract you from the dire situation our protagonists are in. And don’t let the Milne reference fool you, by no means is this Winnie-the-Pooh on any level, rather the short sentence structure adds to the tension he’s building. It’s almost uncomfortable at times, but so is living in an apartment complex.
The plot is simple, the residents of an apartment complex suddenly and inexplicably find themselves under attack by a legion of crazed, naked people with one goal in mind: to savagely murder any clothed person they come upon. The survivors band together and board themselves into the complex, besieged by the horde, buying time to plan an escape. Unsure if the problem at hand is localized or not, the fellowship must do something before they are overrun. It’s a take on the classic siege story/last stand formula, but one that works exceedingly well. Although he takes the time in the opening chapters to delve into each person’s back story, allowing us to bond with this ragtag group, Keene quickly throws them into the blender of madness that is his twisted imagination.
A rich selection of modern archetypes drive the story: the despondent, suicidal author on his last leg; an aging Vietnam vet who has seen his share of nightmares; a young transwoman fighting against her own perceptions, as well as those of others; a rescued cat that has faced its fair share of tragedy; a mother and her young son; and an elderly woman with a surprisingly open mind. But it’s the character known to Keene’s fans as The Exit that shines in The Complex.
Continuing his recent trend of creating a shared universe of characters, a la Michael Moorcock, The Complex is an all-star affair featuring a trio of previously introduced characters for its fellowship, have been previously established in the Keene-Verse in his short fiction. There’s Grouchy old Grady Hicks from the Keene short “Customer Service Letter Written by an Angry Old Man on Christmas Eve,” Hannibal the survivalist kitty (“Halves”) and, the aforementioned Javier Mendez, aka The Exit.
An anti-hero previously shown in a trio of short stories and one novel (“I Am An Exit,” “This Is Not An Exit,” “Exit Strategies” and The Seven, respectively.), The Exit is Keene’s Elric of Melnibone. Fundamentally a serial killer, The Exit’s duty is to close spiritual doorways between our world and the cosmic horrors of the multiverse. He accomplishes this through what he calls “a sacrifice.” These sacrifices haunt The Exit much in the same manner as Stormbringer taunts Elric for souls, and try as he may, he cannot escape it. Because of this, much like with Elric, becoming a companion of The Exit is a surefire way to get yourself killed, as his neighbors in the complex soon learn. This McGuffin allows Keene to make some surprising decisions in the direction the story moves, adding to the shock factors as our heroes fall, one by one.
There is no explanation for the events that happen, they just do. And it ends as ambiguously as it starts, a wink to the infamous ending of his first novel, The Rising. The Complex is a welcome addition to Brian Keene’s body of work and is practically cinematic in its telling, and should he choose to revisit this Elseworlds setting, I’ll happily jump on for the ride.
Brian Fucking Keene