Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
Genre: Adult Thriller/Crime
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Release date: September 2014
Source: ARC from Comic Con
The nitty-gritty: Top-notch writing and storytelling, a gripping and disturbing thriller, with finely nuanced characters that surprised me in the best possible way.
In the end, forgiveness is like letting go of a rabid cougar you had by the tail.
“This is America. Sex is worse than violence.” – Detective Gabi Versado
After reading so many great reviews of Broken Monsters, I finally pushed aside a toppling pile of review books and settled down to read it. And I’m so glad I did. This book surprised me, and then kept surprising the further I read. The deeper I got into the story, and the more layers I peeled back, the better it was. I am in love with Lauren Beukes, and I’m making it my mission to catch up on her backlist as soon as I can. This story is so much more than a police procedural/murder mystery. Yes, there is a seriously fucked up man who is killing people in bizarre and disturbing ways. And there is a tenacious detective who won’t give up until he’s caught.
But there is also an ensemble cast of characters, each with intricately detailed back-stories. Beukes could have chosen any of these characters to write a story about, so carefully and lovingly does she bring them to life. You may not like them all, but each one is a necessary piece of the puzzle. I turned the pages quickly when the action heated up, but I savored the passages where Beukes develops her characters. By the end of the story I seriously wanted to hang out with Gabi, sit down and have coffee with TK, and take Layla under my wing. (I have a fifteen-year-old myself, and boy did Layla’s story scare me to death!)
You won’t have to wonder for very long who the killer is in Broken Monsters. You’ll figure it out within a few chapters, as you are meant to do. Set in the gritty city of Detroit, the story is told through multiple points of view: Gabi, single mom to Layla and a dedicated detective who never gives up; fifteen-year-old Layla, who gets into some serious trouble along with her best friend Cas; TK, a reformed criminal who’s homeless but tries to help others like himself; Jonno, a middle-aged journalist looking for his big break; and Clayton Broom, a disturbed artist who is slowly unraveling.
When a grisly body is discovered—the top of a young boy fused to the legs of a deer—Gabi and her team go into high gear to solve the murder. Another body is discovered soon after, and Gabi begins to suspect a serial killer is at work. In the midst of trying to uncover clues, Gabi’s daughter Layla is starting to spin out of control. Layla and her friend Cas start chatting online with a pedophile, which leads them to make some very poor choices. Jonno and his new girlfriend Jen begin working on a video about Detroit’s underground art scene, but unintentionally end up in the thick of the murder investigation.
Beukes builds tension slowly, and it takes a while before all the puzzle pieces start to fit together. Eventually the characters’ lives begin to intersect in unexpected ways, but honestly, the journey was just as good as getting to the end. Each character has his own mini-story that runs parallel to the murder investigation, and Beukes weaves all these elements together seamlessly. I’ve heard other readers talk about what a skillful writer she is, and now I can see why. Not only is she juggling multiple storylines, but she’s done a bang-up job of it!
I’ve never been to Detroit myself, but in Broken Monsters, the city is just as much a character as Gabi or Layla. Beukes (who lives in South Africa) has obviously spent some time there, since the descriptions are so vivid and practically jump off the page. I loved some of the local slang, like the description of “Detroit diamonds”—the locals’ term for the broken car window glass that litters the city. Beukes doesn’t shy away from the less savory parts of the city—which is to say most of them—like poverty, the prevalence of crime and drugs, and my favorite, the sad and eerie abandoned factories that seem to be everywhere. But there is beauty in the city as well, an unexpected art scene that thrives among the destruction in back alleys.
The story is also about our obsession with social media and how damaging it can be. Jonno is a journalist who wants his fifteen minutes of fame, and he eventually gets it, but maybe not in quite the way he expected to. Beukes shows how internet news stories spread and change and grow into entities that cannot be contained. She cautions us about the potential dangers of social media sites, especially for children, but she doesn’t preach.
Throughout the story, chalk doorways begin to pop up near the murder scenes, and we’re given hints that something supernatural may be going on. Honestly, as much as I love supernatural in my novels, I would have been fine without it. But I did love the way you couldn’t really tell if those elements were real, or if they were all in the mind of our unreliable narrator.
This book is a stand-alone, but I dearly hope that the author decides to write more about these characters, so much did I come to love them. In any case, I guarantee that I’ll be reading another Lauren Beukes story very soon.
Big thanks to Mulholland Books for supplying a review copy.
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