07 Jan / Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
By about page 50 or within the first of 12 parts stuck in the ears (the multi-reader cast is absolutely superb, by the way), the whodunnit is pretty clear. That said, serial murder mystery this is, finding out whydunnit-and-howdunnit is the thrill ride you won’t be able to exit until the very, very end. Be warned: your head will keep spinning (not to mention seeing horrible things) for a good while after.
In the broken city of Detroit, the appearance of a gruesomely conjoined corpse made up of half boy, half deer shocks the city. In all her years of overwork on the police force, Gabriella Versado has never been this shocked and sickened. Being as effective as she is at her job makes being a single mother to her teenage daughter Layla that much more challenging. Left alone far too often, Layla and her best friend Cassandra have little guidance about avoiding trouble; they’re currently baiting an online pedophile who likes to call himself Velvet Boy.
Amidst the media frenzy, newcomer-to-Detroit Jonno who barely escaped his dead-end career choices in New York City, is working hard to get his five minutes of fame, determined to bring the killer search to the people. A mother in shock grinding plastic toys in the insinkerator, a homeless man sporting red shoes, his friend trying desperately to build a safe home from others’ discards and left-behinds, cyber bullying and underage assault, hidden identities, shattered families, and art created of insistent nightmares, are all somehow involved in the process of forming, fighting, stopping these abominable, unspeakable creatures.
Novelist/scriptwriter Lauren Beukes is quite the interesting literary enigma. Although she’s South African-born-and-currently-domiciled, her last two novels have showcased her chameleon-like ability to write pitch-perfect Americana. Last year’s harrowing The Shining Girls, about a time traveling mass murderer, seamlessly captured almost a century of Chicago history. With what seems to be similar effortlessness, Beukes succeeds again here, imagining a shuttered, depressed Detroit, albeit with glimpses of coming renewal, including fancy apartment complexes and even a reference to an artist revitalization housing project not unlike Write a House. Such uncommon details are what make Beukes – a former journalist – seem like a local; ironically, that both novels feature seriously disturbed serial killers attacking their own might suggest some not-so-hidden aggression, but I might just be reading too much.
What is absolutely certain is that Beukes has perfected the art of spooking, scaring, terrifying her readers. As fantastical as her narrative premises might be – time travel and uhm … literal anthropomorphism? – the threat of harm (sadly) couldn’t be more universal: any victim could be snatched to death in just the blink of an eye. That everyday, any minute, too real occurrence is exactly what keeps us edge-of-our-seat, torment-me-again, and still wanting more.