Lauren Beukes (South Africa) – Broken Monsters

this psycho serial killer cum horror novel has an ending that’s pure crazy and i loved it

Today in the Washington Post I read a review of The Red Pencil, a children’s book about a girl in Sudan who wants to go to school. I have no objection to authors writing about other countries, but there is something refreshing to me about the opposite perspective: authors from middle- or low-income countries writing about high-income countries. I just finished listening to Lauren Beukes’ Broken Monsters. Beukes is South African and lives in South Africa, but the novel is entirely set in Detroit Michigan, with an American cast.

I was tipped off to this book by Ainehi Edoro’s lovely review at Brittle Paper. The audiobook is well read by a cast of four readers.

Detective Gabriella Versado is the first detective on the scene of a dead boy, or rather, the top half of a dead boy, who has been connected to the bottom half of a deer. In other words, this starts as a psycho serial killer novel. (It’s not much of a spoiler to tell you that there is more than one murder; the book is more than 450 pages, after all.) The narration rotates between Detective Versado, her daughter Leila, the killer, an opportunistic freelance writer, and a local homeless man, all of whose stories interweave.

But by the end, with a series of psychedelic dream sequences, flying chairs, evil energy conducing mobile phones, it becomes clear that this is actually a horror novel as much as a thriller. And that makes it better. The ending is pure crazy and I loved it. As author William Gibson writes, “I love ardent intragenre contemporary weirdness, and Lauren Beurkes’s Detroit is superb.”

I look forward to revisiting some of Beukes’ older work in the wake of this wild ride.

First line: “The body. The-body-the-body-the-body, she thinks.”

Last line: “This is the way the world is now. Everything is public. You have to find other people who understand. You have to find a way to live with it.”

A couple of other lines I liked:

* “The world is condensing, attention spans narrowing to tiny screens, and there are people who are wittier and smarter, who know how to write for those nanospaces.”
* “They’re not young anymore. There’s a softening to their muscles. It’s true about her convictions, too. Experience has filed the edge off the hard truths she believed in when she was younger.”

Note on content: Lots of grown-up themes and violence and language and all that. Not for the kiddos. I’m not sure I’m old enough for it.

broken monsters

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