He doesn't know it, but Brian Keene and I go way back.
I was killing time in a city book store (you remember those, right?) looking without purpose for something to read. I was due to meet a friend from interstate at a nearby bar but he'd texted late that he was going to be late. So whilst aimlessly browsing I stumbled across Keene's The Rising and The Conqueror Worms and opted to give them both a shot. I ambled up to the local pub, opened The Conqueror Worms, and with a pint beside me was somewhat annoyed when said friend showed up 40 minutes later. Not because he was that late, but because he was interrupting my reading ...
The rest, as they say, is history.
I've read pretty much everything mainstream of Keene's. There are small print, limited release bits and pieces I've missed, but my Keene collection is by far the largest in a sizeable collection of books. His shelf has pride of place among my collected horror novels. And yet, despite being such a fan, I've called him out when I think what he's written has been just okay (The Lost Level), exceedingly disappointing (King of The Bastards) or flat out terrible (The Damned Highway) - most of which have been his more recent releases.
So I hope people can accept that this review is not a fanboy gushing unwarranted praise. But rather a relieved fan saying: rejoice for the Keene of old is back!
The Complex is startlingly simple. A group of tenants in a low cost living complex are besieged by a a large group of insane naked people brandishing weapons, intent on tearing them to pieces. The devil, however, is in the details. Keene begins the short novel by introducing his characters one by one according to their apartment number. There is a newly married couple, a depressed horror novelist, a retired Vietnam vet, an elderly woman with spunk, a newly moved in mother and son, a woman who recently underwent a sex change, two stoners who have stolen something they shouldn't have, and The Exit.
The Exit is a recurring character in Keene's well-established mythos, and for the first time, he is detailed beyond the broad-strokes of being a serial killer who sacrifices people to keep things from crossing over into our world, intent on all of human kind's destruction. To have him suddenly be set upon rather than being the person doing the set upon-ing is a fantastic treat for fans of Keene's mythos. He grows as the novel progresses, almost becoming likeable along the way.
But as good as The Exit is, it's Keene's other minor characters who steal the show. Mrs Carlucci is fantastic as an against type old woman who is just as prepared to get her hands dirty as the next person; while Steph is memorable for more than just being a trans-gendered individual who is handled without judgment. Then there is Sam - who Keene makes no effort to disguise as being a very close approximation of himself - and the arc he goes through, which would have been clichéd, if not for ... Well, that would be spoiling.
Then there are the other treats for fans of King's mythology. Vince Napoli, Tony Genova and Whitey are all name checked. Hannibal the cat from his short story, Halves, reappears and even gets a chapter from his perspective.
Another excellent element of The Complex is Keene does not give into the temptation to neatly explain everything. It might have been nice to have an idea of why naked people were killing everyone else; to wonder which of The Thirteen might have been responsible for the blood-soaked chaos. But the characters in this book have no clue, and as such, Keene offers no answer. They are just set upon and must find a way to survive. It's that simple. And awesome.
I have to nitpick to find things that weren't quite up to the standard of the rest of the book. Like the sudden intrusion of two new characters toward the end of proceedings - Bryan and Mike, who are clearly author Bryan Smith and regular Keene collaborator and film-maker, Mike Lombardo - being jarring and not strictly necessary. Likewise, I imagine a good number of people will have an issue with how The Complex ends. However, as I said previously, this is a return to form for Keene and with that return comes a certain type of ending he is somewhat infamous for ... Personally, I thought it fitting, and I enjoyed mulling it over for a day or two before writing this review, wondering what might have occurred immediately after his final sentence ends.
Regardless, The Complex is an excellent and gore-drenched horror novel that should be picked up by anyone who enjoys such things. It's the best thing he has written in years and, hopefully, is just a sign of things to come as he looks to wind-up his elaborate mythology with a number of books over the next few years.
4.5 Head-Bopping Naked Psychopaths for The Complex