Brian Keene: Paperback Writer

by S. T. Joshi
(From 21st-Century Horror)

We can, if we like, trace the origin of “popular” weird fiction to the Gothic novels of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when a motley crew of hacks, wannabes, and imitators produced hundreds of utterly forgettable novels and tales that mimicked the genuine contributions of a few noteworthy writers, specifically Ann Radcliffe, M. G. Lewis, Mary Shelley, and Charles Robert Maturin. This tendency continued throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with such writers as Thomas Rymer (Varney the Vampire, 1847), George W. M. Reynolds, the pulpsters of the 1920s and 1930s (Seabury Quinn, Hugh B. Cave, and so on ad infinitum), Dennis Wheatley, and others.

The horror “boom” of the 1970s and 1980s was itself largely a pop culture phenomenon, and few of the endless array of novels generated during this period—even by such notables as Stephen King, Anne Rice, Clive Barker, and others—have any hope of surviving much beyond our time. Countless hacks sought to capitalise on the craze for horror by churning out novels by the hundreds—with the result that the “boom” died from this surfeit of mediocrity. And yet, it would appear that some writers still think there is an audience for schlocky, over-the-top horror, usually printed in paperback and with titles usually of the form “The + gerund.” One of the most relentless of these is Brian Keene (b. 1967).

The only horror in Keene’s work is that there is so much of it. Since 2000, Keene has published at least forty-three novels, twelve short story collections, and sundry other material—an impressive achievement if his books were of any substance or even bare competence, but quite otherwise if, as appears to be the case, the books in question are nothing but crude and slapdash hackwork. A fair number of his books have been published by Leisure Books, a firm that habitually churns out pablum of all sorts for the great unwashed. It seems to be a match made in hell. The end result is that Keene has, in a minuscule way, achieved that Holy Grail of the paperback writer: he has become something of a brand name. All his Leisure Books novels feature a uniform cover design, making it evident to readers that they should know what they are getting. Just as the food (I use the term loosely) at McDonald’s is of a reliably uniform mediocrity, so Keene’s books are predictable farragos of crude, over-the-top horror, action-adventure plots right out of the movies (of the sort, at any rate, that he himself desperately wishes his novels would become), and minimal characterisation, all written in slipshod, plebeian prose that never taxes the intelligence-challenged readers he hopes to attract.

I am not enough of a masochist to have read the collected works of Brian Keene. Instead, I have chosen four novels—The Rising (2003), City of the Dead (2005), Ghoul (2007), and A Gathering of Crows (2010)—that I assume are representative of his work. They tell a sad story indeed—the saddest being how so many readers could have been bamboozled into thinking that these relentlessly trashy tomes can provide even the frothy entertainment one might expect from books one buys at the drug store or the airport.

The Rising is the first of a series of books dealing with a post-apocalyptic scenario whereby some mysterious cadre of alien entities has invaded the bodies of the dead and reanimated them into vicious zombies. This does not sound like a very prepossessing idea for a novel, let alone a succession of novels, and it isn’t. Keene thinks he has made radical innovations in the zombie motif (a motif that strikes me as even less aesthetically viable than the stale and overused motifs of the vampire, ghost, or werewolf) by having his zombies display intelligence and the ability to work together, and also by having animals become zombies. But these deviations only add to the absurdity of the overall plot.

The Rising focuses alternately on a disparate group of characters. First and foremost there is one Jim Thurmond, a divorced man in West Virginia who is so dispirited by the ravages of the zombies (“Civilization was dead” [7]) that he contemplates suicide; but he changes his mind when he receives a call from his six-year-old son, Danny, now living in New Jersey, who says that his mother (Jim’s ex-wife, Tammy) and her new husband, Rick, have become zombies, and that he himself is holed up in the attic of his house and hopes Jim can save him. From the moment we learn of this development, it is transparently obvious that Jim will ultimately succeed in this mission: Keene clearly wants the relationship between Jim and his son to be the emotional anchor of the book, and he lays on the sticky sentimentality with great gusto.

Another focus of the book is Frankie (last name apparently not provided), an African American prostitute in Baltimore who is initially addicted to heroin but manages to cure herself and become a valiant zombie-fighter. Then there is the Rev. Thomas Martin, an African American pastor who utters flabby pieties throughout this book and its sequel. I had initially thought that Martin[1] was meant to be a caricature—a windy buffoon whose theology (if it can be called that) is seriously confused. But it becomes gradually apparent that Keene actually likes this fellow and wants us to like him—and, what’s more, to accept his defence of God even while the world is going to hell in a handbasket. (More on this later.) Finally, there is William Baker, a professor of nuclear physics at a place called the Havenbrook National Laboratories in Pennsylvania, where some odd experiment was conducted some time earlier. Baker is plagued by guilt that the zombie apocalypse was a result of this experiment, of which he was in charge (“It was his fault” [78]), but it is never clarified exactly how this could have happened.

I will spare you the tedium of expounding the details of the plot. Let it suffice to say that, against all plausibility, Jim, Thomas Martin, and Frankie all manage to come together as they make their way to New Jersey to save Danny. They have more than their share of narrow escapes from the marauding zombies, but are then beset by a rogue military unit near Gettysburg who are resorting to fascist and other un-American practices to save humanity. As part of their antics, this militia has rounded up a group of women to serve as prostitutes to service the cohort during off moments. Many members of the militia end up perishing as they try to make their way to Havenbrook, thinking it is a safe location; in fact, it is under the control of the zombies. But Jim and his valiant friends manage to escape and get to New Jersey. The novel ends on a ridiculous cliffhanger in which we see Jim entering his ex-wife’s house to see whether Danny is still alive; but we know full well that he is, as the opening pages of City of the Dead (which repeat the final pages of The Rising verbatim) make evident.

That novel picks up right where The Rising left off, but its focus is less on Jim and his pals than on one Darren Ramsey, a fabulously wealthy individual in New York City who constructed Ramsey Towers soon after 9/11 with all manner of safety features that will presumably preserve it intact in the event of any kind of catastrophe, and it now serves as a haven for humanity in the wake of continuing zombie predations. (It becomes quite clear that Ramsey is a Donald Trump figure. As Jim remarks of him: “The billionaire developer?…The one with his own board game and books and a reality series on TV?” [148].) But it appears that Ramsey may be cracking under the strain, and he is also endowed with a potentially dangerous messianic streak; so one Bates, his chief of security, takes matters into his own hands. Knowing that the zombies plan on a major siege of the building, he wants to leave—but how to transport the 300 humans in the building? A homeless person named Pigpen (!) tells Bates about a secret tunnel that might lead them to safety; but as Baker, Jim, and others start traversing the tunnel, they are attacked by zombies in both human shape and in the form of rats. Jim then directs a flamethrower at the gas mains on the ceiling, sacrificing himself but apparently saving at least a few humans. (Ramsey had died earlier in a shootout with Jim.) It seems that Frankie, Danny, and Pigpen (also Pigpen’s cat, named God) will survive. But alas! the zombie rats chew through a hole in what the survivors believed was an impassable shelter, and they are all killed. Looks as if humanity has bitten the dust.

But wait! I now see that Keene has written another novel, The Rising: Deliverance (2010). I have not read this masterwork, but I assume from its title that the human race’s tenure on this earth isn’t quite over. What a relief! I was getting a bit worried there.

If the outline of the plots of these two novels isn’t sufficient to demonstrate their utter preposterousness, then perhaps an examination of the half-baked theology underlying it might. I repeat that, although in City of the Dead it is noted that the experiment at Havenbrook “opened the door, broke down the dimensional barriers” (33) that allowed the alien entities to possess the reanimated humans and animals, it is entirely unclear how exactly this happened. But that is far from being the greatest absurdity in the scenario. Evidently, this experiment allowed a group of extraterrestrial entities called the Siqqusim to enter the dead and revivify them. But to what purpose? In City of the Dead we learn from Ob, the leader of the Siqqusim, that “We were banished long ago, banished to the Void by Him, the cruel one; the one your kind worships still” (32). Can Keene actually be advocating an explicitly Christian metaphysics? It certainly seems so. At one point Jim and Thomas Martin debate the point. Jim, a sceptic almost in spite of himself, makes an obvious query: “Why did God let this happen?” (66). Martin replies with the astounding assertion: “What’s happening isn’t of God. It’s Satan who was given mastery over the Earth.…Despite what you may have heard, bad things are not caused by God” (66).

I do not believe Keene has the slightest awareness of what he, through his mouthpiece, is suggesting here. The age-old query of why, if God is both omnipotent and benevolent (as the Christian god is purported to be), bad things happen to good people (or, indeed, happen at all), is an unresolvable conundrum for Christian theologians. They have tried all manner of sophistical contortions to evade this difficulty, chiefly by resorting to the notion of free will. But, as Walter Kaufmann has argued in The Faith of a Heretic (1961), free will doesn’t get you out of the paradox. What Keene is now proposing is astoundingly radical. Long ago David Hume stated in Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1779) that either God’s omnipotence or God’s benevolence must be jettisoned if this problem is to be dispensed with; most Christians, understandably, have not been prepared to let go of God’s omnipotence, but a few theologians (notably the Catholic Hans Küng in Does God Exist? [1980]) have done so. But Keene is apparently happy to give it up, arguing for a kind of Manichaean scenario where God and Satan are somehow equal in power; or, in any case, that God is somehow unable (or unwilling?) to intervene on Earth even when the very fate of his prized species—that is, us—is at stake.

As for the Siqqusim, they are apparently motivated merely by blind hatred of God. Toward the end of City of the Dead, Ob expresses a desire to kill Jim and Danny, because that act “would burn the Creator’s ears and eyes” (320). Not very nice! Indeed, at an early stage in The Rising we are told that the zombies are possessed by something “that was—old. Ancient. ¶ And very, very evil” (69). Note the formulation here (expressed by way of the purportedly dramatic one-sentence paragraph, a corny device that Keene uses to excess): the entity in question is not merely evil; not merely very evil; but very, very evil. Does Keene really expect mature and intelligent readers to react to this bombastic editorialising with anything but derisive laughter? (The question of whether any mature and intelligent readers read Keene at all is a separate issue.) From a philosophical perspective, it is of interest that in Keene’s judgment the sole or major criterion of an entity’s moral evil is the harm that it can inflict upon the human race. He clearly differs from Lovecraft, who once wrote pungently:

Popular authors do not and apparently cannot appreciate the fact that true art is obtainable only by rejecting normality and conventionality in toto, and approaching a theme purged utterly of any usual or preconceived point of view. . . . Who ever wrote a story from the point of view that man is a blemish on the cosmos, who ought to be eradicated? . . . Only a cynic can create horror—for behind every masterpiece of the sort must reside a driving daemonic force that despises the human race and its illusions, and longs to pull them to pieces and mock them. (Letter to Edwin Baird, published in Weird Tales, March 1924)

Keene gets himself into further difficulties when he has the spirit of Thomas Martin (who has by now also bitten the dust) tell Frankie that information on the zombies can be found in certain old books: “And there are other books too, tomes even older than the original Bible or Koran. Books like the Daemonolateria [sic]” (236). That is no typo, for it is cited in exactly the same manner in other books. I suspect this is Keene’s imprecise recollection of an actual work, Daemonolatreia, by Remigius (Nicholas Remy, 1530–1612), mentioned by Lovecraft and others. The work is hardly earlier than the Bible, having been published in 1595 (the title translates to “worship of demons”). What this work could possibly have to do with the zombie motif is unclear.

The theological underpinnings of these two novels are, I imagine, of little import to most readers, who are otherwise overwhelmed with repeated scenes of bloodletting on the part of the zombies or murders and other sadistic cruelties performed by the rogue militia. This, for Keene, is obviously the raison d’être of the books in question; but the ludicrous excess of gore weakens its impact, so that toward the end each new instance of it simply washes over the reader without eliciting any emotion whatever—unless it be contempt at the author for engaging in this monotonous mayhem.

Ghoul is the one novel of Keene’s that has had the privilege of being adapted into a full-length film (for television); but, alas, the film appears to be rubbish, if the 3.9 (out of 10) ranking on is any gauge. The novel itself is not much better, although Keene is clearly making a pathetically earnest effort to write a more “serious” book chock full of characters struggling with traumas of various sorts; but the end result is just as hackneyed and stereotyped as his earlier books.

Here we are concerned with three twelve-year-old boys in central Pennsylvania—Timmy Graco, Barry Smeltzer, and Doug Keiser—who look forward to a summer of fun in the year 1984, but find only horror instead. Barry and his mother are repeatedly brutalised by their thug of a father, Clark Smeltzer, who is the caretaker of the cemetery of the local Lutheran church. Doug’s mother has lapsed into alcoholism after her husband deserted her for another woman and now, appallingly enough, actually has sex with her son whenever he doesn’t lock her out of his room. Timmy’s family life is relatively sane by comparison, but he is pained by the death of his grandfather, Dane Graco, and by a later incident I shall address presently. In this welter of misery the one portrayal that exhibits a semblance of depth is that of Doug, who is paradoxically horrified by his mother’s vile behaviour but nonetheless clings to her, realising that she is all the family he has left. But Keene falls flat on his face by an incredibly lame attempt to wring plangent emotion out of Dane’s funeral: his prose is so wooden and lifeless that this excruciating scene goes on and on without evoking the slightest response in the reader.

The supernatural element is introduced early on, as the prologue depicts a pair of randy teenagers, Pat Kemp and Karen Moore, who are making out in the cemetery but are then attacked by some hideous monster. Pat is killed; Karen’s fate is unspecified, but we can all guess what it might be. Fairly soon we learn that Clark Smeltzer is working in tandem with the monster, who turns out to be a ghoul. The creature is “not dead, yet not really alive” (81). It and others of its kind were “cursed by the Creator long ago to dwell beneath the surface”; they could only eat “the cold, rotting corpses of the dead—the scraps from the Creator’s table” (82). Furthermore, “Its kind were impervious to the weapons of man…only the sun’s rays could destroy it” (82). From the moment this statement is made, we all know what the outcome will be. Similarly, when we learn that the ghoul has a partiality to human women and can mate with them to produce offspring, there is no doubt what will follow: the ghoul himself tells Smeltzer that he wants “more women” (88), and Smeltzer does his best to oblige, bringing a hapless young woman named Deb Lentz for the ghoul’s delectation. (It has now become obvious that the ghoul already has Karen Moore in his clutches.) But why does the ghoul become active now? We are informed that “the sigil is accidentally broken” (83), meaning that Smeltzer had inadvertently broken a gravestone, releasing the entity. The ghoul has apparently made a series of tunnels underneath the cemetery.

Timmy, Barry, and Doug are disturbed by the various mysteries all around them—the disappearance of Pat and Karen; the presence of sinkholes throughout the cemetery—and wonder what the cause can be. Then Timmy reads a comic book that he identifies as issue 135 of The House of Secrets. This is an actual DC comic, but in the description that follows it becomes apparent that Keene is actually describing issue 153 (September 1978). But Keene then goes on to describe a story in the comic called “Down with the Dead Men” that remarkably echoes the plot of his book:

It took place in a cemetery, which piqued his flagging interest. A ghoul was on the loose; eating the bodies of the dead and hording [sic] the gold and jewelry with which they’d been buried. In the comic, a group of villagers trapped the creature in a crypt and destroyed it by waiting for the sun to rise, then allowing the sunlight to shine through the crypt’s small window. (213)

This story is not in the actual comic. Timmy seizes upon it as a remarkably exact account of what has been happening in his town. But when he unwisely attempts to persuade his parents, Randy and Elizabeth, of the existence of the ghoul, Randy takes the (sensible) attitude that Timmy’s voracious reading of comic books has warped his mind; he systematically tears up his entire comic collection while Timmy watches in tears.

But Timmy is undeterred in his desire to defeat the ghoul—a desire augmented by the boys’ discovery of the rotting remains of Pat Kemp in the trunk of his car. Karen’s remarins, however, are not there. Barry, now planning to run away to escape his father’s abuse, comes to Timmy’s house to say goodbye; but Timmy tells Barry about his ghoul theory and persuades him to help slay the creature. (Unbeknownst to them, the ghoul has already killed Doug.) Elsewhere in the cemetery, Timmy, Barry, and Doug had created an “underground clubhouse” (22) that they called the Dugout. Timmy and Barry now go there, finding it partially caved in. After seeing Doug’s bicycle nearby, Timmy goes underground to see if he can find him; he orders Barry to commandeer his father’s backhoe to begin unearthing the tunnels. In the subsequent ruckus, Timmy comes upon both Karen and Deb, the latter of whom is all but speechless after being molested by the ghoul. But Timmy and Barry manage to conquer the ghoul—as we all knew from the outset they would—by getting it to appear on the surface just as the sun is rising.

In a brief epilogue, twenty years have passed. Timmy, now with a wife and children, comes back to his hometown. Barry has taken over his father’s position as caretaker of the cemetery, but has predictably become just as abusive to his son as his father was to him. And there the book ends.

But wait a minute! Isn’t something missing? What exactly is the fate of Karen Moore and Deb Lentz? During the book’s climactic scene, Karen reveals a surprising level of both agility and emotional stability, even though she must have been sexually abused by the ghoul for weeks or months. She appears to have been saved by Timmy and Barry, but Keene devotes not one word about her subsequent fate—and he cannot be troubled to talk about Deb at all. Was she killed? Did she survive? If so, how did she deal with the trauma she must have suffered? More significantly, given that Keene makes much of the ghoul’s desperate desire to reproduce (he frequently wonders if he is the last ghoul in existence), it is astonishing—indeed, appalling—that Keene does not pay the slightest attention to the prospect that both young women have been impregnated by the ghoul. Did they give birth? Did they have an abortion? We have no idea—there is stony silence on the issue. If there is any indication that Keene has a fundamental lack of interest in his female characters, this must be it. It would be difficult to find a more clear-cut instance of misogyny than this.

But The Ghoul fails on many other grounds as well. I cannot begin to imagine where Keene got the notion that ghouls cannot endure sunlight; I know of no instance of previous usages of the ghoul motif—ranging from its origin in William Beckford’s Vathek (1786) to various tales by H. P. Lovecraft to Caitlín R. Kiernan’s The Daughter of Hounds (2007)—where such an idea is explicitly stated. It is plain that Keene has come up with this notion simply as a handy way to dispatch the ghoul at the end. The mention of the “Creator” is also curious; once again, I know of no previous work of supernatural fiction where the ghoul phenomenon is so clearly tied to religious (and presumably Christian) metaphysics. And Keene’s attempt to write a quasi-historical novel, set in the year 1984, is also a dismal failure: the best he can do is simply rattle off popular TV shows, movies, or comic books of the era, but this does nothing to provide a genuine sense of the socio-cultural ambiance of the period.

A Gathering of Crows is the third book dealing with an ex-Amish sorcerer or wonderworker named Levi Stolzfus, although it can be read independently of its predecessors, Dark Hollow (2006) and Ghost Walk (2008). Here we find ourselves in the small town of Brinkley Springs, West Virginia, which is beset by an unusual array of supernatural entities: five creatures who are able to shapeshift between huge crows and black-attired human beings. They also have immense powers, being able to rip out a person’s heart with their bare hands, among other prodigies. Levi just happens to be on the scene when these crow-men’s depredations begin, and he gathers a valiant band of people to combat them. I am not giving away any secrets in saying that they are triumphant.

It is hardly worth pursuing the plot of this bloated, rambling book, because Keene has ludicrously padded it with repeated (and repetitious) scenes of bloodletting whereby we are introduced to various denizens of Brinkley Springs, only to see them annihilated by the crow-men. It becomes apparent that this is really at best a novella-length plot that has been artificially extended to novel length. There is very little plot development until perhaps the last third of the book, when we finally get some idea of what these crow-men are up to. Meanwhile, we are apparently to be interested in the fate of the few humans who survive, among them an ex–Iraq War veteran named Donny Osborne and his erstwhile girlfriend, Marsha Cummings, who attempted suicide after he deserted her following high school; Donny who has now come back to tend to his mother, but she dies of cancer before the book’s events begin. And yet, the portrayal of these two characters is so sketchy that readers feel nothing for them and merely have to accept the author’s word that they are really soulmates deeply in love.

Levi—who comes across as a ripoff of Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane (in his obtrusive Christian piety) and William Hope Hodgson’s Thomas Carnacki (in his use of absurd occultist mumbo-jumbo)—is holed up in a bed-and-breakfast run by one Esther Landry. He has conveniently peppered this place with various trinkets that magically protect it from the crow-men. As he sees the crow-men killing everyone in sight, he at one point mutters a spell that partially immobilises them, allowing Donny and Marsha to escape their clutches. Later he and others go to the house of Myrtle Danbury, a New Age devotee, and collect salt and sage, which apparently have great powers to battle the crow-men. Still later, Levi and others are apparently trapped in a house that is being besieged by the crow-men; but Levi announces portentously that “There is a way to move between all of these different worlds in all of these various dimensions and realities” (251). How cosmic! Does Levi lead his charges to some remote realm in the far reaches of the universe? Not quite; he takes them to…Esther Landry’s house. Luring the crow-men there, he uses various means to dispatch the creatures. The town is all but destroyed, but at least a few humans survive, and they will presumably repopulate it.

The theology underlying A Gathering of Crows is even more farcical than that in Keene’s other books. In a classic info dump, Levi gives a long-winded lecture about the creatures he is battling. They are apparently minions of an entity named Meeble, “who seems to delight…on [sic] destroying humanity one town at a time” (210). One would think that a cosmic entity of this sort would have bigger fish to fry, but let that pass. Meeble is one of a group of creatures called “the Thirteen,” among whom are Ob and others from The Rising; these thirteen were denizens of a previous universe that God destroyed when creating the present universe, but somehow they “escaped the destruction” (208) and are now motivated by hatred of God (naturally). They can be destroyed by “very specific—and dangerous—magic…That magic is known only to a few, of which [sic] I am one” (209). Very convenient!

But who is the God in question? Throughout the novel Levi invokes him in various ways. At the outset we are told that “He [Levi] was a stranger to everyone but himself . . . and God” (42). Later, Levi prays explicitly to Jesus Christ (80), and still later he prays to “the Lord” (130), adding bathetically, “Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated.” I imagine God will take that request under advisement. And, if it were not clear enough already, Levi then prays to “God the Father…the Son and the Holy Ghost” (149).

But in an earlier passage Keene has Levi expressed scorn for many of the standard religions of the earth. He has a particular animus against “New Age amateur mystics” and “Evangelical Christians,” and the third-person narrator goes on to say:

In his [Levi’s] experience, the majority of both were hypocrites and con artists, wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing, preying on those who refused to think for themselves and discern God’s truths from mankind’s lies. In Levi’s opinion, that was the problem with religion in general. The Christians [my emphasis], Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, Satanists, pagans, Hindus, Cthulhu cultists, Scientologists and every other religious group or cult, no matter how big or small, thought that their way was the right way. In reality, none of them had it completely right, for it was not meant for them to know all of the universe’s secrets. (43)

This would all be unexceptionable, were it not that Levi is so obviously wedded to the Christian dispensation. It’s pretty hard to pray to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost without acknowledging that one is a Christian! Levi may well say at one point that he is “not Amish or Mennonite, or Protestant or Catholic…I’m just trying to live my life right and do God’s work” (204)—but that only raises the question of which exact god Levi believes in.

But Keene compounds the confusion by a later scene where one of the crow-men fails to react to a spell muttered by Levi: “The fact that it had merely taunted him told Levi that this was something else, something beyond the Judeo-Christian pantheon [sic], or any other of the world’s major religions” (149). (Parenthetically, I would be interested to know how a monotheistic religion such as Christianity can be considered a “pantheon,” which denotes a multiplicity of gods.) If that is the case, then how can Levi’s appeals to the Christian god be of any avail? If anyone can make any sense of this baffling theological mishmash, he is doing better than I. (I will not bother to comment on the Latin gibberish—much of it ungrammatical and even misspelled—that Levi spouts from time to time, to say nothing of some meaningless and confusing Lovecraftian references, whereby the crow-men end up “beneath the noxious skies of Yuggoth” [285].)

There are at least two overriding problems with such an explicit appeal to Christian dogma, such as Keene makes here and in other books. The first is that, given the obvious fact that a substantial majority of the world’s population (including people of other faiths and people of no faith) do not acknowledge the truth of Christianity, they will react only with derision or indifference to works that demand the reader’s acceptance of it. The second problem is one that specifically affects writers of supernatural fiction: it makes their work too easy. When authors get into some kind of plot difficulty, all they have to do is to appeal to God (just as Stephen King evoked “the hand of God” toward the end of The Stand) to get them out of it. In Keene’s case, we all know from the outset that Levi, representing the power of God (and he is manifestly the Christian god, in spite of all his equivocations), will triumph over the “evil” (149) crow-men. The game is rigged from the start.

I am compelled to remark that Brian Keene’s books are filled with staggering errors of style and grammar. Ordinarily it is not the role of the literary critic to point out such gaffes, and I am also well aware that in these decadent days almost anything goes as far as English usage is concerned; but a good many of Keene’s linguistic derelictions bring him pretty close to the realm of illiteracy. Let me highlight only a few of the more notable solecisms in The Rising:

City of the Dead contains such charming gems of linguistic incompetence as these:

Ghoul is a rich treasure-house of multifarious solecisms, among which the most distinguished are these:

I should emphasise that these are only the most egregious errors; Keene’s books are filled to overflowing with lesser blunders—bad punctuation, all manner of crudities of style and diction, erroneous use of quotation marks, and on and on and on. And it is entirely unsurprising that the bonehead editors at Leisure Books were incapable of fixing these blunders or even of recognising that they exist.

But Keene’s tenuous acquaintance with the English language is the least of his difficulties. Fundamentally, his plots are hackneyed and predictable, his characters utterly one-dimensional and unengaging, and his prose a perfect distillation of the American sermo vulgaris, and therefore entirely devoid of elegance, sophistication, or subtlety.

In short, Brian Keene is not just a bad writer; not just a very bad writer; he is a very, very bad writer.

Works Cited

[1] Oddly enough, at one point this character is referred to as “George Martin” (206). Analogously, we are introduced to a minor named Lloyd Clendenan (116), who later metamorphoses into Delmas Clendenan (136f.).