In Brain’s (Doris and the Ankh, 2015) thriller, the fate of the world may be in the hands of a janitor and a high schooler, both inextricably tied to a serial killer’s spree.
High school custodian Dan Speegs spends his 37th birthday—also the 15th anniversary of fiancee Gwen’s accidental death—parked in the woods in a drunken haze. When he sees a man take a female out of a car trunk, he believes he’s witnessed a murder; plus, the next day, 15-year-old Allison Murphy is missing. Things only get more bizarre: Dan meets a woman dressed as a cheerleader, who says that only he can see her; then he encounters a boy who seems capable of freezing time. Meanwhile, having narrowly escaped an attempted rape by her English teacher, teenager Liesel Thompson decides to put her trust in Dan, a loner like herself. Together they go after a killer targeting young girls, a killer whose otherworldly plan may be detrimental for all of humanity. There are unmistakable shades of the supernatural in Brain’s novel, but he waits until the final act to reveal what’s truly happening and, for example, who (or what) the cheerleader is. Nevertheless, the first two-thirds of the story are enthralling, despite being grounded largely in reality. Characters are well-rounded: Dan, who blames himself for not saving Gwen, is an alcoholic whose estranged sister won’t let him see his niece or nephew while Liesel’s home life consists of a neglectful mother and abusive father. The unlikely duo’s relationship, too, is familial and there’s clearly nothing sexual between the two; to drive that point home, Brain contrasts Dan with lecherous co-worker Larry, who’s got an eye for the much younger ladies. There’s a hefty amount of action as well as intense sequences as the killer goes after Dan and Liesel, with a bit of time traveling thrown in and a predominantly supernatural battle at the end. Dan also faces the choice of stopping the collapse of the entire world or very possibly preventing Gwen’s death.
Exciting mystical elements bolster an exhilarating tale led by two appealing characters.