Author: Lauren Beukes
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Date of Publication: September 16, 2014
If Thomas Harris and William Peter Blatty got together and wrote a book, it would be Lauren Beukes' Broken Monsters. Most of this well-paced thriller is the story of a particularly twisted serial killer preying on diverse victims in Detroit. The ending changes the tone of the book into a hallucinogenic, paranormal freak show.
Set in contemporary Detroit, Detective Gabriella Versado investigates a series of horrific murders involving seemingly arbitrary victims. The crime scenes are particularly gruesome because the killer engages in post-mortem mutilation of the bodies. Versado searches for connections or similarities in the victims while also single parenting her teenage daughter Layla. Distracted on both the professional and domestic fronts, the detective can't seem to get a handle on either role. Layla's story is one of an unsupervised teen who, left to her own devices, finds all kinds of trouble on her own while trolling internet chat sites.
The author is a native of South Africa but nonetheless paints a terrific portrait of a decaying and troubled American city. The violence is disturbing but so is the despair and gloom of an abandoned urban landscape. The author seems to be making a statement that the blighted environment played a major role in the development of this particularly sick criminal. There is an eventual link to the art scene in Detroit and the author includes interesting depictions of contemporary urban art and culture.
Broken Monsters also makes a valid statement regarding the media and its ability to be part of the story instead of a detached, unbiased information source. One of the main characters is an attention seeking video blogger who feeds into the killer's need for publicity which incites the criminal and hinders the police investigation.
This author's writing is very vivid and Broken Monsters is fast-paced, entertaining and thought provoking. It's not for everybody, however, as the crime scene descriptions leave little to the imagination and are horrific. The strengths of the book are the depictions of urban chaos and the Detroit art scene and the overall quality of the writing. Layla's story is an interesting diversion and a cautionary tale for parents of teens. The ending was for me, well, weird, but did wrap up all of the subplots into a satisfying conclusion. Broken Monsters is a very good contemporary crime novel and is well worth the effort to read.