Lauren Beukes has been churning out some very interesting novels over the past few years and unfortunately (for me!)I have not read her earlier books. Often described as “quirky”, “Scary as Hell and Hypnotic” by the “Kings” of Horror writing -Pretty heavy-duty endorsements! So If you like your spine-chilling horror stories, then Lauren Beukes should probably figure in your top 5 writers. Right up there with Stephen King and James Elroy. I decided to dive straight into her latest book, Broken Monsters without letting the blurbs carry me away on the wings of soaring expectations.
By the time I was about 10% into this twisted exploration of a broken modern-day society set in decrepit Detroit that I knew nothing about, I was sold. Both on the terrifying premise of the story and her terrific storytelling abilities. And while yes, Lauren begs comparisons to the established greats of this genre, she definitely is striking out her own blazing path here. Broken Monsters is the latest in that growing list of achievements.
The characters of the book (And they are many!) are all so disturbingly real, broken and flawed in many ways like you and me – that you easily relate to them. Immersing us into a desolate atmospheric Detroit where most of the action takes place over a week, Lauren takes us on a tense creepy-as-hell tour of the weird and intriguing. Her writing is flawless – firmly drawing us into the murky murder mystery of a horrific nature that rocks the city of Detroit. The book starts with the discovery of a dead body – a sickening handiwork where the upper torso of an African-American boy has been glued to the lower half of a deer.
Now if you cannot stomach gruesome murder descriptions, then I’d suggest caution. Coz Lauren deftly paints up a bleak picture of the murder scene, gruesome and horrifying, the first of many such blood splashed tableau; a possible handiwork of a deranged psycho killer out on the loose. This book thus is at heart a serial-killer chase - a detailed police-procedural with Detective Gabriella Versado, one of the leading characters in the book obsessively working the clues to get to the murderer – but what really shines amidst this excess of violence and gore – is Lauren’s handling of her main characters. The tumbling thoughts, the confusions and constant struggle within each of her lead character (It’s amazing how easy her writing is, letting us deep inside their heads!) is really what holds this story together. Transforming it from a taut and bloody serial-killer chase into a much more scary and a deeply psychological horror story. Lauren doesn’t build up the tension to a grand expose as would be expected. Instead from pretty early on itself, we are privy to the dark recesses of the minds of the killer. In a way, this is a far more effective tool; talk about being insanely talented. Hats off Lauren.
So the tragic crumbling city of Detroit in its forgotten glory of the ruins and the wannabe-hipster-art ambitions is a towering presence throughout the book - the main plot is told through multiple POVs – We encounter Detective Gabbi obsessed with this curious case, her precocious daughter Layla struggling with the usual issues of a teenager( acceptance, friendship, identity crisis, internet addiction…Frankly in Layla and her best friend Cas Lauren beautifully explores the insecurities of childhood and navigating the high school in the age of Internet trawling. Personally for me their chapters were a tour-de-force, , a very compelling read, authoritatively portrayed!), a failed writer Jonno Haim in search of his big break roaming the pubs and art-parties of Detroit [Using him as a foil to take satirical digs at societal norms and aspirations around art!) A homeless man called TK in search of an abandoned house-articles that he can salvage to build a home for himself and Clayton – a restless artist/sculptor who has fallen out of grace with the art community in Detroit and is struggling with his own personal demons.
I say it again. Lauren Beukes can really write. And convey horror – in its purest and most chilling form. A deep-seated unsettling feeling that crawls up your back and lodges itself firmly in the back of your head. Broken Monsters is a “shining” example of Lauren’s abilities – with a prose honed to razor sharpness leaping between exuberant and addictive, this book is a telling exploration of the dark inside all of us in today’s society. Dark and utterly absorbing, Broken Monsters for me is the “doorway” to Lauren Beukes’ world. I got Shining Girls and Zooland next up!