The Murder Complex

I'm an impatient person. Especially when it comes to cooking. I don't want to wait for dough to rise: I want my PIZZA. I don't want to "marinate overnight," I want my STEAK. My inability to wait for yeast to rise or flavors to infuse means that I'm often disappointed in the flavor of the final product. The loaf of bread or ribeye doesn't necessarily taste awful--on the contrary, they're generally quite tasty. However, they lack that special something that extra time would have given the flavor. They're not at their best.

That's a bit how I felt about The Murder Complex. Cummings had me hooked with the first few chapters. The mystery of this clearly dysfunctional society grabbed me. How is it that people have nanites to heal them, yet must apply for rations and live on practically nothing? Why does the heroine, Meadow, have to be such a deadly fighter? Don't worry--most of these questions will be answered, but not necessarily as I would have liked.

Meadow lives with her dad (who is a seriously scary dude--he's almost killed Meadow numerous times in order to "train" her for her "destiny"), her brother Koi (is it so awful that I pictured him as a large goldfish?), and her little sister Peri on a houseboat off the Florida coast. Except, this isn't Florida anymore. This is the Shallows, a rundown city whose inhabitants live in fear of the Initiative (the government) and the Dark Time--when people are murdered. Every night, the streets must be cleaned of the dead of the previous night--there's a lot of them. 

It's time for Meadow to go to the city and pass a test in order to get a job. The better the job, the more rations she gets for her family. This is when I started to question the originality of certain plot elements. In order to get to her test, Meadow must fight hundreds of other people in order to jump on a moving train. Hmm...Divergent? Then, she is placed in a room with another job hunter and they must fight to the death--only one can emerge alive. Hmm...Red Rising??? 

The narrative alternates between Meadow and Zephyr, a ward of the Initiative (i.e., he's an orphan) whose job is the lowest of the low--he's part of the team that picks up the dead bodies every night. He is worth nothing ... yet he has strange dreams about a girl with silver hair (oh wait ... MEADOW has silver hair!) and then randomly decides to commit suicide because, as it turns out, he's actually a secret assassin who kills without knowing why. 

Watch out. HERE COMES THE INSTALOVE. As Zephyr lies bleeding out from his self-inflicted wounds, Meadow just *happens* to be passing by. Even though her father has taught her to worry only about her own survival, in true cliché fashion, she must stop and break her own rule to save this boy. "I should leave now, but I can't stop looking at him. He is beautiful. Shaggy brown hair sweeps across his face, and I am shocked at how bad I want to touch it. Someone who looks like this shouldn't be so weak. Someone who looks like this shouldn't die this way."

Wow. He shouldn't die because he's "beautiful." Newsflash, Meadow dear, you can be "beautiful" and be a psychopath. You can be "beautiful" and be devoid of brains. You can be "beautiful" and still die a horrible death. Death doesn't care about aesthetics. And the instalove just gets so, so much worse from here. 

Zephyr goes to get his rations (where Meadow happens to work) and there she is. "My breath just sort of stops, right there in my lungs. [where else would it be? your kidneys???] Standing behind the glass, staring down at the blood soaked floor with anger warping her face, is the person I swear I've waited my entire life to see." This is seriously unhealthy. "Meadow steps out, silver hair hanging just to her hips. Stars, she's perfect ... Instead, all I can think is I might love this girl." Then they go on a date to a boardwalk (seriously!)

Then: the let's go swimming scene. I'm cringing as I write this--no lie.

" 'We should get back now. Get on the train and head home. It's late.' 'You're beautiful,' Zephyr says. He moves closer. The waves rock us back and forth, andmy heart hammers in my chest. His voice is velvet. His voice is saying all of the things I never thought I would hear anyone say. I'm not sure I want this ... A rogue wave hits me, fast and strong. It pushes me into him. I grab his shoulders, and before I realize what is happening, his arms are around my waist. I can feel his heart hammering in time with my own."

Then, right at the crucial moment, as the strings hold their vibrato and their lips move towards each other, Zephyr is "activated" and attempts to kill Meadow, since he is (remember!) a super-secret assassin who can't control himself. Eventually, they meet again, since Zephyr is still in love with Meadow and follows her like a puppy dog. She's on a mission to find out what her mom was really involved in. That whole job thing where she had to kill that girl? Yeah, not super important. The first half of the novel is setup without background information, which is awkward, and then suddenly things start happening all over the place. Meadow sets fire to her home as her family flees. Pirates are after her and Zephyr. She sneaks into the Initiative compound and finds out that She Is Important. So is her mother (even though Meadow insists her mom was ordinary. Girl, you need to get out more). THEN she and Zephyr find her family, only to be betrayed. Then they find more allies because suddenly this book has become "take down the Initiative and find out its secrets." People who were maybe dead aren't dead and then other people just die randomly. 

The evil in this society really is implausible. It all rests on the idea that a twenty-year-old could figure out a cure for all human disease. Basically, she figured out immortality. The only way to die is to be murdered. 

And how would you think this is a good idea, as a scientist? How do you fix your mistake? If you answered, "Well, I would create a supercomputer, grow babies to become assassins, train them secretly to be superkillers, and then set them loose every night to cull the population," you should be friends with the Bad Person in this book! You think alike!

This deserves some serious side-eye. To add to the implausibility of this scenario, supposedly all of this happened in less than 25 years. Did they kill all the older people? No one seems to understand that they're being controlled, manipulated, and tracked, even though much of the population is old enough to fight back. If Meadow's mom can remember birdsong (evidently birds all died sometime. I don't know.), how has society so completely fallen under the thrall of this totalitarian regime? 

By now, you're probably thoroughly convinced that I hated this. Surprisingly, I did not. Remember how I talked about marinating and dough rising? I think this book needed to marinate a bit more. It needed to be cleaned up and expanded upon and fleshed out. It needed to mature. It also needs all of the instalove bits excised, because that gives teens a really unhealthy and improbable expectation of what love is really like and what a good relationship should be. However, Cummings keeps the action coming like you wouldn't believe, and I was flipping the pages like mad to find out what would happen next. I am intrigued by the overall idea and I would probably read the sequel to find out what happens. Cummings handles the fight scenes really well, and the cruelty of desperate people in an oppressive society is believably gruesome. 

I'm not entirely sure if I would, in good faith, excitedly recommend this to someone. But for fans of the genre, it will work.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.


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