I’m not sure where I first heard about this novel by Lauren Beukes, but I was given the impression that it’s a sort of science fiction mystery. It’s not that exactly. It’s really a straight-up horror novel that reads like a crime novel—there’s a detective working a case and a large cast of characters whose connection to the case only gradually becomes clear. It reminded me a bit of Henning Mankell’s Sidetracked, just with hints of the paranormal that become more prominent as the story develops.
Broken Monsters is set in contemporary Detroit where the police have found the body of a boy that has been cut in half and attached to the lower body of a deer. It is gruesome, so gruesome that I almost put the book away, but the short chapters kept me reading—just one more and one more until I was hooked.
The detective in charge of the case is Gabriella Versado, a single mom whose daughter, Layla, spends her time with her best friend Cas seeking out pedophiles on Spinchat and other social networks in hopes of embarrassing them for their heinous behavior. Meanwhile, a reporter named Jonno Haim has come to Detroit looking for a fresh start and a fresh story. And a homeless man named TK walks the streets looking for sources of cash for his family, while a struggling artist named Clayton is trying to put his family back together.
The book is not a mystery in the sense that we have to figure out who the killer is. That becomes evident pretty quickly. But there’s a lot of mystery in the question of why the killer is doing this and how, indeed whether, the killer will get caught. With short chapters moving quickly from one character to the next and covering just 10 days, Beukes keeps the story moving.
One hallmark of the book is its extreme specificity. It is very much of its place and time. I’ve never been to Detroit and can’t speak to the accuracy of Beukes’s description of it, but she incorporates a lot of detail that makes her depiction of the city feel vivid and real. Equally striking is her depiction of online society, where Redditors try to solve crimes and anyone with a camera with video capabilities can try to become a YouTube sensation. Probably the best part of the book is a listicle at the end that purports to be written for the site “Upfeed” (heh). If she could have incorporated gifs, it would have been perfect. I do wonder, however, if her extremely of-the-moment depictions of online life will make the book seem dated in a short amount of time.
But maybe this isn’t a book meant to stand the test of time. It’s a dark and entertaining diversion for and about right now.