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Lauren Beukes
Broken Monsters
Mulholland Books / Little, Brown and Company / Hachette Book Group
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-316-21682-1
Publication Date: 09-16-2014
442 Pages; $26.00
Date Reviewed: 09-19-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014

Index:  Horror  Mystery  Science Fiction

The murder, the body — they're both there on the first page. Detective Gabriella Versado is not going to have good day. 'Broken Monsters,' the new novel by Lauren Beukes, unfolds in Detroit, where the difference between art and ruin is in the eye of the beholder. With careful prose, a large cast of characters and an intense plot that seems inspired by the work of Salvador Dali, Beukes offers readers a glimpse art, awe, and ultimately their own hearts. The latter not recently removed still beating, which will feel like a happy surprise.

So, yes, there are some very strange murders going on in Detroit; the less readers know about them, the better. Even the dust jacket tells too much for my taste. 'Broken Monsters' does not rely on twists or gimmicks, but it benefits from being discovered, one word at a time. Rest assured, they're all engaging, as are the characters. Beukes crafts a rather large cast, giving her a lot of agility to pop around as the complicated plots unfold. 'Broken Monsters' covers a lot of ground without feeling like it.

Gabriella is the single, divorced mother of a precocious teenager, Layla. Layla likes to spend time with an unlikely friend, Cas, the two of them messing about, generally on the Internet, and soon enough, managing to turn virtual life into actual trouble. Jonno is a would-be journalist, old enough to know about pen and paper, young enough to know that the Internet is a future that is rapidly turning journalism into a non-profit institution. New to Detroit, leaving the detritus of a broken life behind, he's lucky enough meet a cute DJ who can show him the cultural and artistic underground in Detroit. There's a lot going on around the edges.

The other edges of Detroit prove to be just as busy but not so happy. Thomas Michael Keen live on the streets, works for a church and rummages for food. Would-be artist Clayton Broom watches his work crumble along with his life. A group of artists turn the ruins of Detroit into a dream. This proves to be the category of dream that includes "nightmares."

Beukes is a master of slowly and steadily whipping up a frenzy of plot, tension and characters. Her dialogue feels real, gritty, tense or light-hearted as required. She crafts a lot of characters who are all enjoyable to be with as she moves from one to the other. Using plot and character, she keeps the tension high, and gives readers a loot of reasons to worry about everyone involved.

Readers who enjoyed 'The Shining Girls' will find a rather different novel here, but one that is equally enjoyable. Beukes knows how to slide from reality to something that resembles it, but is much more disturbing. And it's not that the world is filled with the prototypical "human monsters," though we have those in spades. It is rather that the world is filled with unpredictability. We like to think that we know ourselves, know those close to us, know what everyone is capable of. But it turns out that creativity is just as likely to be a curse as it is a blessing. Art, ruin, awe, we do them all so well. Beukes does them all well enough to give us the kind of nightmares that she herself is writing about.

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