/ Cory Doctorow / 9 am Mon, Sep 22 2014
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  • Lauren Beukes's Broken Monsters

    Lauren Beukes's Broken Monsters

    Lauren Beukes's latest crime/horror novel Broken Monsters marries the snappy, hard-boiled cleverness of her 2010 novel Zoo City with the visceral horror of 2013's The Shining Girls and yields up a tale that's as terrifying as it is contemporary -- Cory Doctorow reviews Broken Monsters.

    Beukes's latest supernatural horror/crime novel does of lot of difficult things very well. The first thing, of course, is the horror. She builds it in incremental, almost innocuous steps, punctuated by the grotesque murders around which the book revolves. BAM! Murder, then bit by bit, circling the murder, the horror, a thermostat dialed up by slow degrees, the shivers going down your spine as a police detective, a drifter, a tormented artist and a young girl begin to unravel the story of a murdered child whose body is found with its legs removed, and in their place, the crudely preserved hindquarters of a young deer.


    Which brings me to the other hard thing that Beukes does here, which is balance a large -- even sometimes huge -- cast of characters, each of them distinct, none of them entirely reliable, and all of them -- even the murderer -- sympathetic, at least some of the time. Beukes uses character-shifts to tease us, to prolong the moments when the tension rises, bringing us to almost unendurable plateaus of suspense.

    And then there's the third hard thing that Beukes does, which is tell a story about Detroit that is neither ruin-porn nor a glossy canned narrative about a "reboot" of a city that is, after all, the home of people, and not a piece of faulty software or a 40-year-old science fiction franchise.

    Broken Monsters is a horror novel about the zeitgeist, a Dracula kind of novel -- like Stoker, Beukes uses incidental, technical prose to fill in the edges of the story (Stoker used telegrams to show us the modern light against the ancient dark; Beukes's social media excerpts are much more skeptical about the inherent rational light of technology than Stoker's Victorian sensibility would admit).

    Besides Stoker, there are two other horror greats in Broken Monsters's ancestry: there are delicious, Clive Barker-ish ribbons of gore and perversity; mixed in with that is a Lovecraftian sense of the immense, awful cruelty of the elder gods, and in Stokerish fashion, these are all played off against modern foils: the smartphone-toting hipster scandalmonger; the catfishing, cyberbullied teen girls; the chorous of vigilante amateur sleuths on Reddit who're convinced that they will somehow solve the mystery before the cops do.

    It's a big and ambitious book with a lot of moving parts, and it's quite an advance on Beukes's already impressive collection of works.

    Broken Monsters

    -Cory Doctorow

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