Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Murder Complex

The Murder Complex

Lindsay Cummings
Fiction
For ages 14 and up
HarperCollins, 2014 

Years ago there was a war, which was followed by a plague. The world was plunged into chaos, and in the southern part of the United States, the part that was once called Florida (which is now called the Shallows), an organization called the Initiative came into the power. A barrier called the Perimeter was erected to keep other people out, and the people who survived the plague in the Shallows were implanted with a Pin that released nanites into their bloodstream. The nanites healed the person’s body so now people do not die of illness or disease. They do still die though. Every night dozens of people are murdered in the Shallows, so many that no one really thinks much about it.

   In spite of the murders, there are still too many people living in the Shallows, and most of the people don’t have enough food, fresh water, clothing and other supplies. The only people who have comfortable lives are the Leeches, those who have been lifted up by the Initiative. They enforce the rules laid down by the Initiative, and everyone else hates them.

   Every day Zephyr James and other Wards (orphans) go out onto the streets and gather up the bodies of the dead, transporting them to a place where they are disposed of. Like all the Wards, Zephyr lives in a special area set aside for people like him. The Initiative gives him rations in exchange for the hours he spends gathering up corpses. Unlike like most Wards, Zephyr spends some of his nights doing something that he barely remembers, something that fills him with horror and guilt. For some reason Zephyr kills people during the Dark Time. He does not exactly remember committing the murders, but he knows that so far he has killed twelve people.

   Now that she is sixteen, and after years of brutal training, Meadow Woodson is now ready to try to get a job with the Initiative. She needs the job badly, or rather she needs the rations that she will get for doing the job. Her little sister needs more food, and without it she might die. Meadow knows what she is going to have to do, she knows that the only way she will get a job placement is if she follows the rule her father has drummed into her: “Kill or be killed.”

   As expected, Meadow is told that she has to fight another girl if she wants a job with the Initiative, and so she fights. To the death. The years of training that her father forced on her pay off, and Meadow wins, killing her opponent. The next day Meadow starts her first job handing out rations in the ration hall.

   Meadow is going home after work when she finds herself in the middle of a situation. A Ward boy has tried to kill himself and he is bleeding to death. Without knowing why, Meadow helps get him to a hospital and insists that the doctors give the Ward some of her blood. She knows she could get into terrible trouble for helping him, that she could be punished for her kindness, but she does it anyway.

   Zephyr survives his suicide attempt. Life should go back to normal, except it doesn’t. Zephyr and Meadow meet again and Zephyr thanks Meadow for her help. They spend time together and all is well until the unthinkable happens. Zephyr’s other self, the hidden one that kills people at night, comes to the fore and he tries to kill Meadow. He almost succeeds, but Meadow’s training kicks in and she manages to get away. She is the first person Zephyr has failed to kill.

   Purely by chance Meadow finds out that the Initiative has created something called the Murder Complex. Somehow people like Zephyr are being used to thin the population, which is necessary now that people are not dying of disease and illness the way they used to. Someone put Meadow’s name into the murder lottery, which is why Zephyr tried to kill her. The thing is that her name was never supposed to be in the lottery in the first place.

   Meadow discovers that her dead mother, who seemed such an ordinary person, was actually a powerful member of the Initiative. Lark Woodson provided the Initiative with valuable technology and Meadow should never have been chosen to be murdered.

   In spite of everything, Meadow and Zephyr join forces, and what they discover horrifies them both. It turns out that the Initiative is not what it seems, and Lark Woodson did something unspeakable that Meadow and Zephyr now have to try to undo.

   This extraordinary dystopia novel is not for the faint of heart. Violence and suffering is a part of life in Meadow and Zephyr’s world, and readers may find it painful to share their adventures, and yet this story is also uplifting and powerful. As the truth is slowly revealed, we come to appreciate how strong these two characters are and how much they need each other to survive. 

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