The God Complex, by Chris Titus (see author interview), chronicles a man investigating the apparent suicide (or possible Mafia related murder) of his brother that was teaching English in Prague. This book was selected from Cheap eBooks.
For a well-written book like this, I was disappointed after I finished reading. There were many great opportunities for a superb storyline, but these were glossed over and left behind in favor of a diary-style venting that was framed by a decent narrative. A lot of the characters had the potential for a great amount of depth and did indeed develop a little as the novel progressed, but the true potential of these characters – and several events – were missed.
Plot Holes and Unfinished Mystery
We begin the book with Marek, an aging officer on the police force in Prague, investigating the death of a man that allegedly jumped from a bridge where suicides had become a weekly (sometimes multiple times a week) occurrence. The only unusual thing is that the body has been completely burned, leading Marek to suspect the involvement of the Mafia.
The alleged jumper is Steve Benson and his brother Paul Benson is called out to Prague from Boston to retrieve the body and assist in the investigation. Paul arrives in Prague to be guided by Klára, one of Steve’s former English students. Klára then becomes Paul’s constant companion and translator throughout Prague and when dealing with the police. After Paul is settled into his hotel Klára brings him to Steve’s apartment – apartment 13. The number affects Paul (and does so again a couple of times), but nothing becomes of it. It was a McGuffin that never became anything.
Klára introduces Paul to Marek at Steve’s apartment. Marek asks Paul about the Mafia (another McGuffin that falls flat) and asks Paul to help decipher Steve’s journals.
Now at this point of reading, I was pulled in. There was a mystery afoot that involved a dead body possibly burned by the Mafia in a foreign city. This had a lot of potential to be fascinating.
Paul then glances through Steve’s notebooks and is confused by the Pentagrams of elements and cryptic writing that involved some Chinese characters. Alright, we’ve got ourselves a new layer to the mystery. Paul also reads of Steve’s medical problems, which (hypochondriacs beware) were pretty gross, and remembers his own frustration when he was living with his brother. We’ve got some character development here.
The storyline looses its way as we get deeper in to reading the journal. The section we read has a seemingly endless rant about not being able to have sex and the first tirade against the Western Medical system. It went on for too long and simply felt like the author was using the medium of a novel to rant. The rant does end eventually and Steve discovers Chinese medicine. He continues to see other Western doctors – including a Doctor Silberman that will become a significant character later on – even as he begins his Chinese medicine treatment. The journal then turns from a complaining rant to a lecture on Chinese medicine and martial arts.
Eventually we return to Paul in Prague and join him on a tour of Prague with Klára. Before the tour they stop at the apartment with Marek once more. At the end of Chapter 9 Paul overhears Klára on the phone say,
“I know what you are planning, and it scares me. Are you sure you can handle this?”
Ok – the mystery has returned and we’re pulled back in after that painfully long journal section.
Klára then takes Paul out on the town in Prague and leaves him at a nightclub after they talk of Steve and his journals with a warning against going to a woman’s apartment because of the risk of the Mafia (it would be better to bring her to Paul’s hotel). Nice – we’ve got a little sexual tension now.
Here’s where things get disturbing – a hooded figure (obviously Steve) kidnaps Doctor Silberman and imprisons him in a warehouse in Chapters 13-15.
We then return to Paul in Prague who visits an acupuncturist named Doctor Huang with Klára to ask about Steve. Doctor Huang speaks glowingly of Steve and does not think he would have committed suicide and could not have been killed by the Mafia (given his martial arts prowess) – disregarding the fact that the Mafia would just overpower Steve with guns or numbers or both. Dr. Huang then teaches Paul and Klára about Quigong, another section of the book that was more of a lecture on Chinese medicine than anything else
We get transported by to Steve torturing Doctor Silberman and promising the doctor symptoms and torture tantamount to what he went through himself. Afterwards, Paul continues to read Steve’s journals and we are taken through another section of complaining that becomes redundant very quickly.
Paul questions whether they have the correct body and Klára confirms the DNA tests matched Steve.
Chapters 23 through 38 then become a sick fantasy with Steve torturing Dr. Silberman (and bringing in a Doctor Yoshida) for months on end. He has clearly become sociopathic and extremely dangerous.
Granted, there is an awesome exchange at the end of Chapter 27. Steve says to Doctor Silberman,
“Look who’s finally admitting he thought he was God” to which Silberman replies, “As if you’re any different. Look at what you are doing to us here.”
Steve then “cures” the doctors with the same methods he used to make them sick. But we never see the doctors completely cured or released. We are simply brought to Paul, who receives a $20,000 life-insurance check and a postcard that leads him to Mykonos. Marek – remember him? – also finds the same postcard and goes to Mykonos. There they both encounter Steve and Klára, who have apparently been married this whole time. They cashed a $20 million life-insurance check and bribed the Greek government for protection. Oh and that Mafia connection? Steve killed and burned a Mafia body to replace his at the bridge – which he somehow got away with no backlash from the Mafia. And Klára replaced the DNA at the crime scene with Steve’s.
All said, the ending was extremely rushed, abrupt, and disappointing, which is why I gave it three stars. Nothing became of several McGuffins, long sections of the book were redundant complaining about a broken system, and most of the characters lacked the depth they were capable of.