Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Terminal is an older book by Brian Keene, probably the most popular (and definitely one of the best) horror writers to come into prominence in the 21st century. Personal reasons (a good friend received a similar diagnosis to the protagonist at the time I purchased it originally) kept me from starting it until recently, but I was glad when I did.

Terminal is the story of Tommy O’Brien, a young blue-collar worker in rural Pennsylvania, with a wife and a child. The O’Brien family is like a lot of families in America today, living from paycheck to paycheck, with no insurance and scant prospects. Tommy’s life takes a sharp turn for the worse, when he is diagnosed with an extremely malignant and aggressive form of cancer, and given no more than three months to live. Then at the end of the one-two punch, he is laid off from his factory job. With nothing left to lose, and worried about what will happen to his family when he’s gone, Tommy decides to rob a bank, figuring there’s little to risk in terms of punishment.

To pull off the heist, Tommy gets the help of two of his friends, the hapless and dim John, and the dangerous newcomer Sherm. The plan is simple: Get in, grab the money, get out, hurt no one. But it all goes wrong when they discover Sherm has more vicious personal demons than they thought, people die, and the situation in the bank turns into a hostage crisis. And the supernatural enters the story in the person of a small boy among the hostages, who may be able to do wondrous things.

For many readers of Keene’s novels, this is a favorite. While I enjoyed it and would recommend it, to me it was closer to the bottom among his published novels. I think the story would have actually worked better without the supernatural elements, and the hyper-religious old woman among the hostages is straight from Stephen King’s The Mist. Still, it is well written, with Keene’s usual deft characterization. For many another author, I would call it a high water mark. It is only in comparison with his other work that it suffers.

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