Review: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes


About Broken Monsters

A criminal mastermind creates violent tableaus in abandoned Detroit warehouses in Lauren Beukes's new genre-bending novel of suspense.

Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit's standards: half boy, half deer, somehow fused together. As stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams?

If you're Detective Versado's geeky teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you're desperate freelance journalist Jonno, you do whatever it takes to get the exclusive on a horrific story. If you're Thomas Keen, known on the street as TK, you'll do what you can to keep your homeless family safe--and find the monster who is possessed by the dream of violently remaking the world.

If Lauren Beukes's internationally bestselling The Shining Girls was a time-jumping thrill ride through the past, her Broken Monsters is a genre-redefining thriller about broken cities, broken dreams, and broken people trying to put themselves back together again.

About the Author

Lauren Beukes writes books, comics for DC Vertigo, movie scripts, TV shows and occasionally journalism.

She won the Arthur C Clarke Award and The Kitschies Red Tentacle for Zoo City, a gritty phantasmagorical noir about magical animals, pop music, refugees, murder and redemption in the slums of inner city Johannesburg. She is currently adapting the novel as a screenplay for Oscar-nominated producer Helena Spring.

Her debut novel, Moxyland is about a neo-corporate apartheid state, bio-engineered art, nano-branding, cell phones used for social control and terrorism.

The Shining Girls, out May/June 2013 is about a time-travelling serial killer.

She recently made her comics debut in the Fables universe with a Fairest mini-series called The Hidden Kingdom with art by Inaki Miranda. The six issue arc follows Rapunzel travelling to Tokyo to confront a dark secret from her past.

She also writes for kids TV shows including Florrie's Dragons and Mouk and co-created South Africa's first half hour animated show: The Adventures of Pax Afrika.

She's a recovering journalist, who has covered everything from wannabe teenage vampires to township vigilantes and directed a documentary, Glitterboys & Ganglands about South Africa's biggest female impersonation beauty pageant, which won Best LGBT at the Atlanta Black Film Festival.

She lives in Cape Town, South Africa, with her husband and daughter.


My Thoughts

(This review is based on an advanced readers copy supplied by the publisher via NetGalley.)

Broken Monsters begins with a grisly murder scene that would be perfectly at home on NBC's Hannibal - a young child and a yearling deer cut in half and glued together, like a perverse satyr.

Lauren Beukes unravels her story across multiple characters, each having their own distinct voice, purpose, and point of view, and it becomes clear that the title Broken Monsters is not representative of only the harsh deeds of a serial killer, but emblematic of the people populating these pages, as well as the setting of Detroit itself. Motown ain't what it used to be, saddled instead with the label of most violent city in America. Take any list - worst place to live, highest rates of murder, most depressed, least healthiest - and Detroit is sure to find itself near the top. It's a bent and broken city. So, too, are wanna-be writer Jonno Haim, and lead investigator Detective Gabi Versado. Versado's daughter, Layla and her friend Cas, are mutually derisive of one another in a way that only best friends can be, and they spend their free time trolling the internet for minor instances of vigilante justice against online perverts, while Cas struggles with a dark secret of her own.

When looking back on Broken Monsters, the first word that leaped to mind was "grit." The book is a dark police procedural, and you could almost cut yourself on the shards of broken glass, aka "Detroit diamonds," littering Woodward Avenue just from reading the damn thing. Lauren Beukes doesn't write characters - she plops down real people whole-cloth and shares their lives with you in 3D, the good, the bad, and, most of all, the ugly. All of it, sparing you nothing. Jonno is, by turns, sympathetic, inspiring, and atrocious thanks to the mistakes he's made and effort he puts into making it one more turn. Layla and Cas - I'm sure we all had friends like these two, or know of girls like them. Versado and the remains of her private life, the struggles she has as a female cop in a man's world - it's all eminently relatable. These are flesh-and-blood individuals. They do stupid things, each trying to be the hero in their own messed up lives, and we can root for them one moment and be angry at them the next because, in some ways both small and large, we are them.

Beukes nails the atmosphere of Detroit and it's police. The dirty, sometimes mean-spirited, humor and the ordeal of women on the force. Gabi remembers, for instance, a time when all of the women's bust-sizes were leaked after being fitted for a bulletproof vest. There's the bullpen chatter and daily debriefings over the progress of the murder investigation that ring authentic and accurate, right down to the squad commander nixing the internal nickname of "Bambi" for the slain boy.

The Detroit setting is mined for all its worth and given credibility by mentions of local staples like Belle Isle, Eastern Market, the Packard Plant, Nain Rouge, Fox 2 News broadcaster Charlie LeDuff, a police department that's overworked and so underfunded that even the whiteboard markers are dead, as well as some of the more notorious aspects the city is known for - urban decay, homelessness, a notorious ex-mayor and federal felon Kwame Kilpatrick (currently serving a 28-year prison stint), drug abuse, theft, property abandonment and foreclosures and squatting, and, most of all, murder.

After reading The Shining Girls last year - one of my absolute favorites of 2013 - I immediately bought Zoo City and Moxyland (sadly, I've not gotten to them yet), and kept my ear to the ground for news of her follow-up. I was really excited when she announced the Detroit setting for Broken Monsters. It would have been a must-read regardless of the locale, but being from Michigan this made my need to read more immediate. Beukes has done her research, and it feels almost as if this South African author has written one of the definitive fictional Detroit crime books. If there was ever a perfectly crafted ode to a fallen American city, this is it. She tackles the Motor City with the authentic finesse of The Wire by way of Red Dragon, polished with sublime sheen of noir-cool. Highly, highly recommended.

buy broken monsters on amazon

South African edition cover art, designed by the supremely talented Joey Hi Fi.

Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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