Review: “The Complex,” Brian Keene

Pros: Fascinating story of neighbors having to work together
Cons: No resolution, no questions answered–unsatisfying ending
Rating: 3 out of 5

Brian Keene’s The Complex is an intriguing tale. One day, a bunch of armed naked people who don’t seem to speak walk out of the woods next to the Pine Village Apartment Complex and start killing everyone they can find. They’re nominally led by a grotesquely obese man whose head sways back and forth like a metronome, leading young Caleb to call him “Tik Tok”. The residents of the various D-block apartments band together to fight off the mob. They include a horror writer (of course), a single mother with her six-year-old son, a young trans woman, an older cat lady and her four cats, a couple of druggies, a Vietnam vet, a married couple, and a serial killer called “The Exit”.

Mostly I find myself rolling my eyes every time a fiction author–particularly a horror writer–makes a main character a writer. I think it’s just that it gets done to death, although at least in this book the writer takes an unexpected turn. The druggies are mostly what you’d expect. The Vietnam vet and the single mother with her kid are good characters, but nothing particularly unexpected; same with the married couple. Stephanie, the trans woman, is one of my favorite characters. The old cat lady is particularly delightful; she’s determined, gutsy, and creative in her methods of defense. The Exit is also fascinating–he’s a non-white serial killer, and he believes that each death he has caused is a necessary sacrifice to close a door between worlds that would otherwise allow in dark beings from beyond. He develops a fair amount of depth as the story goes on.

Tik Tok’s obesity is played purely for disgust, and I found that annoying. Poking fun at the fat guy is the easy play, and the rest of this book is better than that. I wish Keene had skipped that part.

SPOILER WARNING: Many questions go unanswered. Why are some people affected and others not? What’s the source of this strange behavior? Who or what is Tik Tok and how is he in charge of the deranged mobs? How far has this thing spread? How does the story end? Is The Exit a loon or are there really doorways between realms that could let alien things inside our world? The ending is rather abrupt and just doesn’t tell us much of anything. END SPOILERS

The story is an interesting commentary on how little we tend to know our neighbors in this day and age, and I don’t typically need everything wrapped up in a tidy bow by the end, but I did want something more than we got.

Content note for slurs, animal harm, and gore.

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