"The Complex" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by Deadite Press
Written by Brian Keene
2016, 175 pages, Fiction
Released on March 10th, 2016
Three chapters into The Complex, Brian Keene’s latest from Deadite Press (his latest is Pressure), and I knew the book was special and on its way to joining the list of my favorite Keene novels. After I finished it, I allowed my brain to process the narrative and to start figuring out ways to convey how good it is in standard book review form. Three weeks went by. I was prepared to write a standard review, but couldn’t put my finger on what it was that made this one special, what made the characters stick with me for so long, and why “fun” was the first word that came to mind when I thought about ways to describe a story about naked individuals killing innocent people. Then everything clicked into place and had my answer. No, I’m not telling you yet. First, let’s get to the synopsis.
The Pine Village Apartment Complex is just like any other complex in the country: a diverse and slightly boring place where some folks are nicer than others and everyone keeps more or less to themselves. On this day, the complex’s residents are going about their business when something horrific happens: a horde of naked, insane, bloodthirsty people appears and they start killing anyone they come across. Fearing for their lives, the residents, whom are as diverse as a depressed horror author, a Vietnam vet, an old cat lady, a young trans woman, a single mother, and a couple of criminal potheads, must band together to survive the senseless violence. Luckily they have a few guns and the help of a serial killer known as The Exit, who knows more than all of the other residents put together. All of their differences are put aside and staying alive becomes their collective goal as the world plummets into gory chaos.
The first thing you should know about The Complex is that it comes from a great horror author at the top of his game. This is a fast-paced, bloody, tense, hyperviolent survival narrative that kicks off with a bang and never slows. There are bodies hitting the floor and walls being knocked down; cars being used as weapons and folks jumping out of windows because the fall is better than death at the hands of the monsters on the other side of the door. To the casual horror reader, Keene is the guy who revived the zombie genre (no pun intended) with his uberpopular breakthrough novel The Rising, and all of the things that make his zombie fiction so popular are here in spades.
Survival horror is more about action than plot, but both elements are here. The madness outside is enough to keep gorehounds happy, but the real beauty of The Complex is in the way these eleven strangers interact with another and in the back stories the author gives them. Furthermore, between the bits and pieces of Keene’s previous novels that get a tip of the hat here and the fact that the author is a thinly veiled vehicle for some of Keene’s own feelings toward writing and the horror genre/awards, those who are familiar with his work are in for a special treat.
Okay, so now we get to the crucial part of the review. Yes, this is where I tell you what sets this one aside and pushes it into the list of best Keene novels. Simply put, very few horror authors understand human nature and human interactions the way Keene does. Maybe it comes from many years of studying people or from innate observational skills, but the point is this: horror is much more effective when the characters are believable and the reader can built some degree of rapport with them. In the case of The Complex, the time spent reading it is time spent caring for them and hoping they survive. In other words, what makes this novel great is that its author has understood the place of humanity in horror the way outstanding musicians understand the importance of silence. Now go buy it and get ready for a wild, fast, vicious ride.