Broken Monsters is a serial killer story. But it’s not like one that you’re used to. It’s pretty obvious from the outset who the killer is. There’s no big reveal in the last few pages; Beukes doesn’t keep you guessing. Here’s the thing: that takes nothing away from the story. Part of the horror is your front row seat to the killer’s unravelling mind.
Much like in her last novel, Broken Monsters incorporates the voices of characters from all sides of the story. We follow a passionate detective investigating a horrific murder, her daughter, a failed writer, a homeless man, and a disturbed artist. As the story unfolds we discover how each of these characters are connected to the strange series of killings in Detroit. And Beukes continues to deconstruct the idea of the serial killer as genius, portrayed so often in the genre. He’s nothing of the sort. He’s crazed and possessed, and he’s a failure in so many respects: as a father-figure, partner, and artist.
This brings us to the broken monsters at the core of the tale. While the murderer is the obvious choice for the broken monster, he’s driven by a ‘dream’ which is a monster of its own. And then there are his creations, and the other major and minor characters who, to varying degrees, are broken monsters too.
In a digital society where our performance of personhood is spread over so many facets of in-person and online interaction, we are all broken. We try to construct ourselves inwardly and outwardly according to how we want to be in the world, and how we want to be perceived in it.
One of the problems about writing about the internet and its role in our lives is that one can easily cross the line into “trying too hard”. Beukes toes that line expertly: cringeworthily naming a pet NyanCat, but then redeeming herself with a comment on the fleeting nature of memes, and later, making a hilarious joke about rainbow poop.
My one complaint is the finale: it didn’t fit for me. Detective Versado’s daughter’s ability to see as Clayton sees seems sudden, and out of character. Her ability to step into other characters becomes a far more central gift than it has been throughout the story. And the paranormal element, which up until then had seemed more a part of Clayton’s madness, was suddenly real. It’s not that I’m not a fan of the paranormal, just that if the dream is real, and it chose Clayton, then he becomes special, and that contradicts Beukes so-far fantastic portrayal of murdery madness.
That said, it’s a compelling read, with an astonishing attention to detail in the writing that makes the setting really come alive. Lauren’s books notoriously defy genre-boxing. This one ends up as a mash-up of cop drama, Hard Candy, and American Gods.