(2014) Lauren Beukes, Harper Collins, £12.99, hrdbk, 517pp, ISBN 978-0-00-746459-3
Okay, I admit it, I have a reputation as the world's most reluctant reader, which is a pity as you have to read books in order to review them. I blame university and more recently completing a Masters for making me an even more reluctant reader, and a really, really slow one as well. So is it any recommendation to say that I read, nay, devoured (well, for me) Broken Monsters in eight days. Over five hundred pages in eight days. Pretty impressive, huh, but does devouring a book make it any good? I came to Broken Monsters effortlessly, picking up a signed copy at the Edinburgh Book Festival, after reading Beukes' third novel, The Shining Girls a Richard and Judy pick, one of Stephen King's ten best books of the year, and lauded by other writers like Gillian (Gone Girl) Flynn. The Shining Girls is a great read, a great concept, but right at the end, you might go: 'Eh? Really? Mmmm' with regard to the book's 'circularity' although it was such a good ride that it was easy to forgive and forget what we are given as the explanation between the killer and the house, yet a couple of hundred pages into Broken Monsters I did ask myself out loud 'where are we going with this?'
In decaying, crumbling Detroit, a body has been found, but not just any body, it is THE body, or rather, an attempted joining of two bodies, one part human, an African American boy, the other part animal, a deer. Who would do such a warped, crazy, twisted thing? Well, the killer has the perfect excuse or defence because voices told him to do it. The voice of a dream. 'Even killers have dreams' says the front of the book, but perhaps 'even dreams need their killers', and while our killer has got it wrong, wrong, wrong, he has got the bug, he is going to kill and create again and make life from parts of bodies, until he gets it right, and the dream can walk the Earth.
The police are on the case, as a patrolman soon christened 'Sparkles' discovers the body and has the makings of a good cop inside him, ending up on loan and part of the team assembled by Detective Gabi Versado investigating the case. Gabi is a single parent, having a probably doomed affair with a fellow officer and struggling to look after her teenage daughter, Layla, who thinks she is love with a hipster boy and knows she is forever in the shadow of her friend precocious friend, Cas, and the pair of them are trying to catch paedophiles on-line and possibly even trap one in person if they can dare to meet him face to face.
Like in The Shining Girls the male characters are a pretty poor bunch, and register on the scale of shitometer from creep to killer. All of them are damaged goods and only the very minor male characters (like Cas' father, or the father of the first victim) come across as a half decent person, apart from the aforementioned 'Sparkles'.
All of this unfolds against the background of Detroit, a city that is almost a character in its own right with its decaying housing estates and industrial areas, hunting grounds for all sorts of people who are hunting different things – people, possessions, fame, within the ruins of the city and those who pick at its bones, indulging in 'ruin porn'.
Despite some brilliant writing, the use of different idioms to tell the story, telling observations of modern society and the way people communicate with each on line for different motives, as well as a couple of jaw-dropping reveals, I felt that Broken Monsters was overlong, needed an edit and the central conceit, the 'dream' was a bit hazy, and while there are some nicely creepy scenes they are almost lost within the tidal wave of the plot, which carries the reader relentlessly along towards the climactic ending, but despite these little niggles, this was a book that was almost unputdownable, and I will certainly be back for whatever Beukes brings out next.
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