Review: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
HarperCollins – Standalone
“Everyone lives three versions of themselves; a public life, a private life and a secret life.”
Detective Gabi Versado is investigating a series of murders in the city of Detroit, murders that are more gruesome and creative than anything she has seen in her career. She searches for the killer slongside a host of other characters searching for their desires—fame, meaning, love, a fresh start.
Broken Monsters is a tense and creepy combination of supernatural horror and crime thriller, populated with complex, flawed characters and unforgettable murder scenes. The beginning is like the opening to an episode of NBC’s Hannibal*—aka, with a memorable, incredibly disturbing, but artistically rendered murder tableau. Turning death into art, and tapping into the strange fascination and appeal death can have, is a major theme of the book—both with our artistically inclined murderer leaving behind beautiful and horrifying bodies, and through the plotline of journalist Jonno, who hopes to turn images of the dying, recession-hit Detroit into art.
Also, each book I read by Beukes seems to be getting progressively more disturbing. I can’t wait for what’s next!!
Aside from their wonderful weirdness and thriller-pacing, the book is full of interesting and well-realized characters, and I love the variety of them. A teenager, a middle-aged single mom, a homeless man, a narcissistic journalist… if I had one complaint though, it was that I didn’t seem to connect to any of them with the same intensity I did her previous sole protagonists (Zinzi December in Zoo City or Kirby Mazrachi in The Shining Girls), perhaps because there were so many more of them. The urban Detroit setting is intensely real. Her cities are so obviously well-researched and come alive so well in her writing that each one feels to me like it is written by a local. In addition, Beukes is also really great at incorporating social media in a way that A) advances plot and characterization, and B) feels natural and organic.
I can’t help making further comparisons between this and Beukes’s earlier books that I’ve read. In each other book, the fantastical elements seemed to serve the purpose of making some sort of social commentary. In Zoo City, it’s on class, stratification, and stigmatization, with the animals acting as a sort of literal manifestation of the guilt and trauma Zinzi and the other animalled are experiencing. In The Shining Girls, the time-traveling serial killer villain is a way to comment on the lost potential—all the “shining girls”—that violence against women has stolen from the world throughout history. I can’t quite pinpoint something similar at work in Broken Monsters-I’d be curious to hear others’ thoughts on the matter, since I feel like the pieces are there, but that I haven’t quite put together. I do like how the characters who seem most like society’s underdogs—the homeless man and the teenage girl—ended up being such focal points during the final chapters of the book.
I wished that the paranormal elements were given more weight earlier in the book, as I found the transition from them being subtle to jaw-droppingly enormous was jarring. The plot also finished in an over-the-top way that I wasn’t overly fond of. I will take away from the story some really interesting characters, horrific but strangely beautiful imagery, and a tense and thrilling story… but I think that what I took away from Zoo City (a journey in overcoming moral apathy) and The Shining Girls (a feminist lament) moved me on a more personal level than Broken Monsters.
That said, this book, her third one that I’ve read, officially moves Lauren Beukes to auto-buy author status for me. She is hugely talented: I adore her writing style, her characters, her fantastic urban settings, the way she creates tension. I must get a myself a copy of Moxyland, and of whatever new books are in the works!
*Plus Jonno is sort of Broken Monsters’ answer to Freddie Lounds—except for her being smarter, more confident, and with much more fabulous hair:
If you like ________, you should check out Broken Monsters:
- Stories with paranormal elements
- Crime thrillers
- Large and diverse casts of characters
If you dislike ______________, you should avoid Broken Monsters:
- Content warning: pedophilia, sexual assault, and ALL sorts of gore and violence.