An Introduction to Brian Keene: The Complex and Ghoul

Brian Keene is a name I have seen popping up in horror conversations for a long time. I followed him on twitter and asked him which of his books I should check out first, he courteously responded suggesting The Complex and Ghoul.

The Complex
Deadite Press – 2016


Long term readers of this blog may have noticed that although I have reviewed countless books about witches, demons, aliens, werewolves, and vampires, I have not done a single book about zombies. I’m not interested in zombies. Night of the Living Dead is one of my favourite films, but even as a kid I thought that each sequel, clone and remake (apart from the 1990 one) was a bit less interesting than the original. The characters and settings change slightly, but the plot is always the same – a bunch of misfits are fighting to stay alive in a building surrounded by a horde of the approaching undead. It is a great concept, but I’ve already seen it 100 times. If you like that kind of thing, good for you, but it’s just not my cup of tea.

When Brian Keene recommended I read The Complex, I started it without reading the blurb. Guess what it’s about!

This is the story of a group of misfits fighting to stay alive in their apartment complex while a horde of bloodthirsty, deranged, naked freaks closes in on them. Perhaps these freaks don’t technically qualify as zombies, but they act an awful lot like them.

Ok, so I feel a bit awkward about this because Mr. Keene was polite to me, and I don’t want to be a jerk, but as soon as things got going I realised that this was exactly the kind of horror fiction that I avoid. I kept going with it though, and I reckon I enjoyed it about as much as I possibly could given the subject matter.

This is well written, action packed, easily digestible fiction. I can see why Mr. Keene would suggest it to a first time reader: it’s fun. I may think that I’m too cool to watch The Walking Dead, but I ripped through this zombie-esque novel in two sittings. It’s not my favourite novel ever, but it certainly wouldn’t put me off reading more books by Keene.

One thing that I did notice was that although Keene is woke enough to include a trans character in this novel, he was not woke enough to avoid fat-shaming the main antagonist of the story. Poor Tick-Tock’s weight is very much a part of what’s supposed to make him repulsive.

Ghoul
Leisure Books – 2007


Three boys’ summer holidays are ruined by a corpse eating ghoul that lives in a cemetery. Sounds good, right? Honestly, this felt a bit like Stephen King ripping off Ray Bradbury. That might sound like a criticism, but I like when Stephen King rips off Ray Bradbury. (Think It.) It’s hard not to root for the protagonists when they’re children who like heavy metal. Ghoul was a fun read, but it wasn’t very scary. That being said, I was genuinely surprised at how grim the ending was. The “who’s the real monster?” question that runs through the book is pretty well answered in the final chapter.

(Note: This book should not be confused with Michael Slade’s Ghoul.)

In truth, neither The Complex nor Ghoul blew me away, but they were both enjoyable books. Despite my aversion to zombies, I reckon The Complex is the better novel. I thought it was a bit tighter. I’m planning to continue my series of of horror novels about worms with Brian Keene’s Earthworm Gods in the near future.

4 thoughts on “An Introduction to Brian Keene: The Complex and Ghoul

  1. Zombies are horrible but I’ve definitely gotten desensitized to them now – my own fault for having watched every episode of The Walking Dead to date, and all the spinoffs too.
    It’s had it’s up and downs. The first couple of seasons were awesome. Another guilty pleasure of mine. I’ll probably watch it until the end now, unless they roll out Neal McDonough in the final season, which would be just too much for me to take.
    Of all the zombie movies, Dawn of the Dead(the original) is surely the classic? Haunted me for months after I first time saw that.
    I watched Reanimator a while back, and that was a blast, an absolute classic, fucking hilarious shit that was.

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    1. The original Romero trilogy (Night, Dawn and Dead) is pretty uneffable, great classic stuff and shouldn’t be faulted for some of its pale imitations. I’d add “Shaun of the Dead”, most of the Italian zombie flicks, and a handful of books to the list of solid to great zombie stuff. “TWD” comic was pretty great in its prime but I found the show to be (after the first 6 episode season when they switched writers) boring, poorly written, and repetitive.

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  2. Keene’s most popular and famous book is “The Rising” which is a zombie novel, often credited with the modern resurgence in zombie fiction alongside the Walking dead comic which debuted around the same time as it. It’s not his favorite of his works but I mention it to say if you generally dislike zombie stories don’t add that one to your to-read pile. I’ve yet to read “The Complex” but would like to–not surprised he recommended it as it’s recent and said to be a return to form of sorts. My favorite books of Keene’s are “Dark Hollow”, “A Gathering of Crows” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town”. His recently ended long-running podcast “The Horror Show’ features some invaluable interviews with genre greats over the course of it’s 5 years including the late great Jack Ketchum’s final interview.

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