“Kids can’t cope with the darkness, supposedly, but how else are we supposed to wrestle with it? How else are we supposed to prepare for this moment when you have to open the door not knowing what’s behind it?” (p.250)
Lauren Beukes is a South African writer who was recommended to me when I was compiling a list of essential books to read by female authors. Three of her works were suggested by blogger friends: Moxyland (2008), Zoo City (2010), and Broken Monsters (2014). She also wrote the 2013 time-travel thriller The Shining Girls, which I have heard very good things about. After reading Broken Monsters, I’m keen to read more of her writing.
Broken Monsters is a serial-killer thriller with supernatural undertones set in modern Detroit. Detective Gabi Versado leads the search for a killer after the mutilated body of a young boy is found on the street. On the wall beside the body is a simple chalk drawing of a door. As the hunt for the killer continues, the author takes us on a tour of some of the darker places of this struggling city, introducing a group of characters who initially seem unrelated.
“The place stinks of damp and old paper. Sweaty feet in an old library. […] The carpets are discolored, like the yard, marked by things that have stood here long enough to leave their ghosts. Stains creep up the walls, damp and black mold.” (p.404)
I want to keep my review of Broken Monsters as spoiler-free as possible, so let me tell you what I thought about the book. This is a gripping, addictive novel peopled with skillfully drawn characters who feel like people you know. Each character’s story is interesting by itself, and it was intriguing to see how Beukes would tie the different plot threads together. This is a master class in writing believable characters that include teenage school girls, thirty-something recovering addicts, and mature conceptual artists.
There is a lot of relevant comment on our current obsession with the latest viral hit on the net. What used to be termed “15 minutes of fame” has been compressed to 15 seconds in our transient age. How far would you go to get your 15 seconds? Just what would you do for more exposure, more popularity, more hits? Beukes explores this theme in Broken Monsters and adds a thought-provoking darker dimension to it. What if there is some kind of entity or force that thrives on exposure, which is empowered by being viewed? Could ‘views’, ‘likes’, ‘shares’, ‘retweets’ and ‘hits’ become a new form of worship, feeding this force?
“The Messenger is still filming – and everything his lens sees becomes more alive, more real. A window to the world, when it has been obsessed with doors. And maybe there is still a chance to rise from the ashes.” (p.489)
There is so much in this book that taps into the zeitgeist, making it more than yet another serial-killer thriller. As well as being a modern detective story, Lauren Beukes examines our addiction to internet-heavy social lives, looking at chat rooms, social networking, vlogging, the power of comments on these sites, playing with identity, constructing fake personas, the dangers inherent in this technology if it is abused, and more. I don’t often read thrillers these days, but thanks to the recommendations by my blogger friends I found myself caught up in this terrific story. I realize this has become a cliché, but it was difficult to put this book down. Truly.
Here’s a quote from the Guardian’s review: ‘Never exploitative, never superficial, never uncomplicated: Beukes shows how horror can be the best way to explain our unbelievable reality’ -Guardian