Brian Keene’s “Terminal” Review

Tommy O’Brian’s life is over. He’s been diagnosed with cancer. Terminal cancer. And this only scratches the surface in a long line of problems Tommy will encounter in his final days upon the Earth.

Behind on the rent, the electric bill, and the credit card, Tommy suffers the symptoms of his condition without the benefit of painkillers, which are too expensive for him to purchase. He spends much of the book coughing up blood, vomiting pieces of himself, and fighting off dizzy spells and crippling headaches. Hiding his condition to spare his wife and son the pain of his inevitable demise, Tommy doesn’t even get the comfort he needs from his family.

Tommy, instead, decides to confide his terminal condition to his two best friends, John and Sherm, after spending the night drinking together after they’re all laid off from their jobs at the foundry. Left with no other choice and nothing left to lose, Tommy comes up with an ill-conceived plan to rob a bank before he meets his death. Resolving to help his dying friend, John volunteers to help. Sherm does it for the shits and giggles.

After the minimal amount of planning possible, the trio proceed with their plan and forever change the lives of everyone caught up in the mix.

Keene spends the first half of the novel building Tommy as a character and those around him. Plain and simple, he’s a poor, blue-collar dude, who is desperate and doesn’t want his family to suffer once he’s gone. John is his life long best friend. Sherm is a ladies man with a mysterious past and sometimes gives off a weird vibe. Tommy’s wife is oblivious to her husband’s degeneration and his son is nice too. Despite being one-dimensional characters, there is something endearing about them. With the exception of the scene in the church, a bit melodramatic in a soap opera type of way, I believe this is the better half of the book.

The second half of the novel is where it falters. The bank heist should have been the most exhilarating part of the story but it feels far too drawn out, especially the parts where the hostages begin telling each other their life stories, “Breakfast Club” style. It seems a bit contrived in the heat of the moment. Given the fact that everything which could possibly gone wrong, does indeed, go wrong, it feels like word padding. As the situation grows worse, we’re bogged down with having to get to know characters who are simply cannon-fodder at the end.

The supernatural element added an extra twist to the story, which I didn’t see coming in my first reading. In my second reading, the previously mentioned church scene made a bit more sense. It was an interesting addition to the story which didn’t go anywhere. The story could have gone without the supernatural element being added in and it would have had the same result. Once again, this feels like word padding.

Having read this novel around the original publication date, I was incredibly excited to read something else written by the author who wrote “The Rising”. Back then, I remember having a much better opinion of it then. Perhaps, it’s because I’ve had a decade more to read additional books by Keene and other horror authors, but reading this now for the second time, I didn’t find it as enjoyable.

Reading this back in my twenties, I completely empathized with Tommy’s plight. I understood the reasons behind his actions. His wife and son. His desperation to give them a better life. I remember cheering and hoping Tommy would succeed.

Reading it again in my thirties, I can still understand the desperation Tommy felt but I wasn’t able to fully buy into it. Every person is the hero in their own story. Tommy was no exception. Everything he did was for his family. Seeing it now, Tommy was selfish, thoughtless, and despicable. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence of his wrongdoing, many chances to redeem himself or at least stop the situation, and even in his attempt at redemption at the end, Tommy still makes the poorest choices possible.

Overall, Terminal isn’t close to one of Keene’s strongest books. As one of his earlier works, it shows signs of promise, but ultimately fails to deliver on the supernatural twist. It would have been better as a straight thriller. As he’s said on his podcast, if he ever gets the rights back to this book, he is going to release an author preferred edition which I believe would vastly improve upon this novel. I look forward to reading it again once it’s ever released.

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