Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Broken Monsters, by Lauren Beukes

A single mom detective against a serial killer who might be a demon.

Broken Monsters

Mulholland Books, 2014, 442 pages

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 best-selling 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.

Lauren Beukes writes supernatural thrillers with a touch of urban fantasy, but mostly lacking the lilac stench of paranormal romance, which is why I have enjoyed all of her books so far. I'm not sure if I liked Broken Monsters more or less than The Shining Girls. Both are really gruesome crime thrillers with just a bit of a supernatural edge. In The Shining Girls, though, the killer's ability to time travel was the twist around which the plot revolved. In Broken Monsters, the police begin by investigating what appears to be a mundane, if extraordinarily gruesome, murder — a child whose body is found halved and crudely attached to half of a fawn. Eventually, they find the other halves of both bodies — also attached.

This book was a bit muddled by multiple POVs. The primary protagonist is Gabriella Versado, a Detroit police detective and single mother who lands the unenviable task of finding the killer of the victim her fellow officers derisively refer to as "Bambi."

Versado's teenage daughter Layla is the second protagonist. Layla is a typical teenager — full of attitude and angst and uncertainty, who loves her mother but still does stupid teenage shit which is both personally and professionally damaging to Mom. There is a subplot about slut-shaming and sexual assault, in which Layla and her bestie take it into their bright, thick teen skulls to entrap an online predator who was trolling for underage jailbait, the "predator" turns out to be more pathetic than dangerous, and Layla's friend turns out to have serious issues. It's a subplot that could have been motivated by the #metoo movement, and I think Beukes managed to work it into the plot in a manner that was just short of falling prey to heavy-handedness, though it really didn't contribute much to the creepy taxidermy-killer storyline.

The third POV character is "TK," a homeless man trying to survive and take care of his homies. I found him almost extraneous, like a character Beukes threw into the story to give a street-level view of events, as if feeling that telling the entire story from the POV of the cops or a teenaged girl might be missing some important voice. Beukes is a good storyteller, but you can tell she's working the Social Justice angle and trying to cover all her bases, which prickles my cranky cynical side a bit.

The novel's primary weakness is that the supernatural part really only manifests in the last few chapters, and it's a bit of a rabbit out of a hat. Like, oh, by the way, this guy isn't completely human and guess what, these killings had bizarre otherworldly significance!

Despite my ragging on this book a bit, I did think it was a good story and I like the ideas Beukes has. I just think all of the individual elements and characters in the novel didn't come together to make a story stronger than the sum of its parts.

Also by Lauren Beukes: My reviews of Zoo City and The Shining Girls.

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: books, fantasy, lauren beukes, reviews

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