Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Book Review: The Complex by Brian Keene

The Complex by Brian Keene

paperback, 232 pages

Published March 2016 by Deadite Press

There was no warning. No chance to escape. They came suddenly. Naked. Bloodthirsty. Sadistic. They descended upon the Pine Village Apartment Complex, relentlessly torturing and killing anyone they could find.

Fearing for their lives, the residents of the complex must band together. A young trans woman, a suicidal middle-aged writer, a lonely Vietnam vet, a newlywed couple, an elderly widow, a single mother and her son, two on-the-run criminals and the serial killer known as The Exit. Eleven strangers. The only thing they have in common is the unstoppable horde that wants to kill them. If they are to make it through the night, they must fight back.

With two novels out this year and a successful podcast Brian Keene has been earning his Grandmaster of Horror award. Hitting the road this year with a tour to promote both Pressure his return to mass market publishing and Complex a paperback on Deadite our mutual publisher. Keene has been on the road alot promoting these books.

I listen to the horror show with Brian Keene most weeks, saw Brian Live here in San Diego and read both novels. To say I am a fan is not a stretch. It's funny I think in many ways Pressure was better written of the two but overall The Complex is the better story. Both were fun reads worthy of your time but I suspect The Complex with it's interesting characters will appeal more to the readers of this blog.

I liked the concept of the novel which anyone who listens to the podcast understands is inspired by an apartment building Keene lived in a few years back. There is a a horror writer character who stands in for Keene and the novel from my understanding ties many of his fictional works together more like F.Paul Wilson's Secret History of the World than Dark Tower.

My favorite aspects of the novel related to the character the Exit who is Keene's fictional serial killer. It made me realize I had not read enough of Keene's back catalog. I read books here and there. I realized that this novel would be stronger if I understood his whole catalog.

The concept is that Crazies or 28 days later style madness comes to the community and together the very different residents of Pine Village have fight together. Meth-heads, a Trans woman, a horror writer, a single mother a serial killer are all neighbors in Keene's universe. As a person who lives in apartment building the idea that I don't know my neighbors and how interesting it would be to struggle to survive beside them makes for a excellent horror concept.

The novel is written like a huge action piece, with unrelenting pace. This is the power of the novel. Is it's Keene's best? No but it is alot of fun and I enjoyed myself. I was sick when I read sorry if this review is short. Thumbs up.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Book Review: Fellside by M.R. Carey

Fellside by M.R. Carey

Hardcover, 496 pages

Published April 2016 by Orbit

I have been a fan of Mike Carey for many years, having written many of the best stories in Constantine one of my all time favorite Comic book series. Known for the comics Carey has been writing novels for a few years mostly in a Constantine-like series of novels. Those novels about A exorcist name Felix Castor were not bad but kinda suffered from being pretty close to the series he wrote for in comics and just didn't hook me enough that I never read past the second book.

Then last year Carey released "The Girl With All the Gifts." It was easily one of my favorite books of the year and a 5 star masterpiece. On this blog I said "a fresh take on a tired genre. It is becoming it's own subgenre of horror now. The interesting zombie novel. No one wants to read the 300th generation zerox of Romero or the Walking Dead...This novel is storytelling magic. A masterpiece. One I think anyone would love."

So when a year later Carey released a new novel I jumped on it as fast as I could. Fellside is a true follow-up, although a totally different story it feels thematically related. A woman who is a prisoner hosts the point of view again. This time our story is told mostly through the eyes of Jess Moulson. A recovering Herion addict who makes up in prison disfigured. Accused of the murder of the 10 year old neighbor who died when she set her apartment on fire. A reaction to her addict boyfriend breaking up with her. At least that is the narrative she is being fed, she doesn't remember it and everyone expects her to die in prison.

As she heals a strange thing happens. Her spirit returns when the ghost of Alex the neighbor who died in the fire visits her. Jess learns that she can travel between the dreams of her fellow inmates. That is when the culture of the prison twist into the story. Corruption, drug mules, violence between inmates. Maybe there is more to the case involved case her fire?

The concept of the novel is strong and I liked the first 200 or so pages alot. Much like the last MR Carey book provided a fresh take on zombies this was an attempt to do the same with the ghost story. I don't personally think it was as successful. The second half kinda fell apart for me. I felt like half the characters Jess, her lawyer, the ghost had many dimensions but many of the prison characters were stereotypes without depth. and perhaps the greatest weakness can in the form of twist towards the end that felt very weak to me. It just felt like it was a cheap trick that didn't make alot of sense story wise. Very forced.

For that reason I enjoyed reading this book but didn't feel satisfied when I closed it at the end and found the last 50 pages to be a bit of a slog. I will give the author major props for telling a interesting ghost story and maybe it was the high bar he set with his last book but I just didn't enjoy it. The Girl With All the gifts is a must read.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Book Review: Stranded by Bracken Macleod

Stranded by Bracken Macleod

Hardcover, 304 pages

Published October 2016 by Tor Books

I picked up this book because it was in the new releases rack at the library and I recognized the author's name from Facebook. I knew nothing about the plot and I kinda just went into it cold from page one. This novel has the cold isolation of The Thing mixed with the descent into madness from Jacob's ladder and at times reaches Phillip K. Dick levels of Paranoia. I know that is pretty high praise but this book earns it. I just wanted to say that before I get deeper into the book.

If Stranded has a weakness the first 20 pages didn't grab me right away. I was a little confused and we are dropped right into the action. Once I got my footing with the story I really got into it. The story follows Noah Cabot a sailor working on a deep sea vessel the Arctic Promise. The ship's mission is to supply a oil drilling rig in the Arctic circle. They are getting close to their drop when a storm hits and almost kills them. It is not long before the Arctic Promise is trapped in the ice. The radio doesn't work, the crew is getting sick and the weather is getting colder each minute. The captain hates Noah and as the prospect of dying at sea sinks so does the mistrust.

Stranded is a tightly written book that drips creepy- tense moments from every pore. Every moment of the build-up of the first 2/3 of the book is tight like a rope hanging with 2,000 pounds on the end. The descriptions of the cold, heat, sweat, and fear are all vivid as hell and when the characters suffer the reader feels it. When the characters despair you feel it. I loved how bleak and hopeless this novel was at moments. This is a classic example of a book being scary as hell if you just put yourself in the shoes of the people involved.

That being said I don't think the final act is nearly as strong as the first two. That is because the first two acts building up to a major twist are so strong. I liked the final act but once the book goes crazy it is a different kind of story. The strength of the slow burn is something that can't keep going I get it. Not the author's fault he did as good a job as possible.

Noah Cabot is a good character, and we feel for him. The tension he feels with the captain and crew is very well done. I have never worked on a ship in the deep sea but those elements felt well researched.The actual prose is tightly written and well edited. The twists were not telegraphed and lets just say it - Macleod has a new fan.

This is a horror novel that works on every level. A masterpiece of slow-burn insanity and isolation. This novel uses nature and the arctic cold in the same way Danny Boyle's Sunshine uses the power of the sun. The man vs. Nature survival aspect is done well enough to carry the novel but add in the twist and insanity of the second half and you have something special.

Excellent must read horror novel that will return in my best reads of the year list for sure.