Short Take: Oh, you like murder mysteries with a twist? Hold my drink and watch this….
This review is a hard one to write, namely because I can only say “WOW GREAT AMAZING” so many ways.
Broken Monsters begins with Detective Gabriella Versado at the scene of a bizarre homicide. The corpse is actually half of the body of a 10 year old boy, and half of the body of a deer, somehow fused together. It’s strange, and otherworldly, and hideous, and it won’t be the last one.
Assisting her is brand-new-detective Marcus Jones, a touchingly earnest rookie. After earning the nickname “Sparkles”, Jones does everything he can to go above and beyond in solving the case, and also to provide a spot of comic relief every now and then.
Working the bizarre homicides from a completely different angle is Jonno, a freelance journalist whose glory days are well behind him. With his girlfriend, DJ Jen Q, he is trying to expose the murders in order to create his own documentary. He’s a particularly sleazy breed of opportunist, willing to exploit the horrific murder of a dead child for his own career.
Beyond the crime-scene tape, Versado’s 16 year old daughter, Layla, is a good kid who’s starting to play with fire. Artistic and a bit of an outcast, she and her new friend Cas have been playing To Catch A Predator with an online pedophile. What starts as a prank turns dark and ugly, and Gabriella is far too preoccupied with the media-intensive case to realize what’s going on until events have started to spiral out of control.
And finally, there’s TK, a homeless man with a gift for resource liberation and allocation that he uses to benefit as many of Detroit’s homeless as he can.
Speaking of Detroit….
Without a doubt, the main character in Broken Monsters is the city of Detroit. It’s grimy and squalid, it’s run-down, shabby, crime-ridden, and decaying. The overwhelming feeling rising off the streets like an odor is despair, and it wafts off of every page. For every person trying to bring back art and culture to the motor city, there are a dozen others who would be happy to see it all burn.
What’s fascinating is that, as insane as the murders are, there are other crimes, smaller crimes, that are happening everywhere, not just the Motor City. There’s a subplot revolving around a drunken high school girl’s sexual assault that has been recorded and put on the internet, in an uncomfortable echo of Steubenville.
There’s a lesson here as well, regarding our own voyeuristic tendencies, the way we make entertainment of the tragedies of others. It almost reads like a cautionary tale, like Detroit and its misery is actually what the future holds for all of us. As a species, we’ve become jaded to the suffering of others, and so isolated from our neighbors that other people are often little more than images on a screen. It’s this tendency that gives power to the worst of the worst. If terrorists didn’t have a way to televise their beheadings, and an audience to watch them, would they still do it?
There’s a strong element of is-it-or-isn’t-it with regard to a supernatural slant to the killings. I’m not going to comment on that either way, as I went into it with zero preconceptions, and it made for a damn fine reading experience that I wouldn’t want to ruin for anyone else. Suffice it to say, the tension of not knowing what’s really going on is FUN. There’s one scene where the question is settled, and that scene is flat-out insane in the absolute best way. I can’t say enough without saying too much.
And finally, the characters are, in my humble opinion, what most writers can only dream of. They are living, breathing, flawed, loving human beings. Lauren Beukes has mastered the “show don’t tell” school of characterization. Each person’s dialog and inner voice and choices reveal so much about them. You understand them, even when you don’t agree with them.
I could go on and on, but I’m just going to say, read the book. Read it slowly and savor it, even though you’ll want to race through it to see what happens next.
The Nerd’s Rating: FIVE HAPPY NEURONS (only because I don’t have a picture with more than that.)