Book Review: Broken Monsters

Reading and reviewing books is a passion of mine, so this will be the first review of many posted to my site. Feel free to comment with your own opinions on the book!

On a normal basis, a distinct line is drawn between fantasy and reality. One exists, and the other does not. Simple.

In Lauren Beukes’ newest thriller, Broken Monsters, fantasy and reality blur until the line is rubbed out. Beukes interweaves the world of rigid police investigation with eerie supernatural elements, resulting in a creepy crime thriller that invites readers to suspend disbelief. Beukes’ strong style and compelling characters make the invitation impossible to deny.

Set in modern rundown Detroit, the novel chronicles a police investigation that follows a serial killer’s trail. Beukes begins the action with a jolt: The body of a young boy is discovered under one of Detroit’s many seedy, graffiti-covered bridges. Instead of legs, the boy has hooves. The killer has attached the bottom half of a fawn to the boy’s torso.

Detective Gabriella Versado leads the police investigation with gusto. As more maimed bodies turn up and Versado falls further down the police work rabbit hole, she unwittingly puts her relationship with her daughter, Layla, on the line. Versado is a gritty and outspoken character who’s fascinating to follow because she’s so flawed–so real. You could telephone Detroit’s precinct and Gabi would answer the phone with a mix of exhaustion and steely determination.

Layla, too, is lovable for her unquestionable teenager-ish-ness. She and her friend Cass, who has a secret past of her own, spend their time hanging out, talking boys, and bating child predators on underage chat sites. Of course this leads to a conflict of its own, and drives Layla near to the breaking point. Her intentions are perpetually good, but her antics put her perpetually in harm’s way.

Beukes narrates through the eyes of mother and daughter, as well as an odd assemblage of other characters: Jonno, an aging ex-hipster with commitment issues; TK, a homeless man with a harrowing past trying to get his life together; and Clayton Broome, a decrepit visual artist still trying to make it big. Each character is complex and relatable, and each adds a unique point of view to the tapestry of Beukes’ story.

These multiple perspectives lend themselves to Beukes’ message that no one is the same in public as they are in private. As she puts it, “everyone lives three versions of themselves, a public life, a private life, and a secret life.” There are multiple facets to every personality, and the aspects Beukes’ characters choose to conceal are often their undoing. She gradually reveals pieces of each character, lending to the novel’s suspense by saving the juiciest tidbits for last. Then, as everything unravels, they come clean.

Or, as clean as they can. The taint of the surreal is never absent from the novel–there are certain aspects the reader can never completely untangle. Like the characters in the story, readers must suspend disbelief if they’re looking for any semblance of a clean takeaway. Some concepts, like mother-daughter relationships and the power and deception of social media, are sussed out and analyzed, while others, like the killer’s motivations and fantasy vs. reality, are left intentionally vague.

Detroit, deserted and gutted and left for desolate, is the perfect creepy playground for Beukes’ scenes, both tangible and intangible. In a story where the villain is driven to madness by the ghost of his past, Detroit becomes a character in its own right. The city is both the ghost of its own past and the wrecked hopes of its future.

Each character, like the city in which they reside, is hopelessly damaged. Each is worth reading about, and each plot line plunges the reader deeper into a mystery with an ambiguous, yet satisfying, resolution.

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Book Review: Broken Monsters

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