The first paragraph of Broken Monsters is the description of a murder scene — a very unusual murder scene. A young boy has been chopped in half, his lower body is missing but his torso is fused to a deer body…
It’s not like I didn’t know I was getting into a crime/horror novel; Leah told me as much when I grabbed it off her desk. But still, kicking off the hunt for a serial killer with such a graphic image on page one, line one was … a lot. Also, the first chapter is called “Bambi,” and that alone gives me the heebie-jeebies.
Lauren Beukes, who previously authored The Shining Girls, crafts her villain brilliantly. She doesn’t make him a tortured genius, but rather a maladjusted, deplorable man — a broken monster. The creativity of his violence knows no bounds and is presented without frills. Beukes balances the extremity of his actions and the utopia in his mind with simple, elegant prose. The imagery and emotions don’t get lost.
The subplots are just as interesting: There’s the detective, the killer, the detective’s daughter, the journalist looking for a big break. The father trying to care for his homeless family. They all have issues (this is an understatement) and as each story overlaps with the others, you become increasingly aware of how poorly it will end for everyone. The anticipation and dread Beukes crafts is remarkable.
Also remarkable is Beukes ability to blend genres, seamlessly incorporating horror, fantasy and traditional crime in ways that highlight the best parts of each (suspense, creativity, a methodical outline). It feels new — unprecedented, in a way.
There is most certainly a moral to her story. She provides rich, layered commentary on the desolation of dreams with her decaying Detroit setting. It’s about the pressure of mass desire. About how to reassemble broken pieces. About the darkest side of humanity.
If any of the above sounds like maybe you don’t have the stomach for this sort of thing, you probably don’t. I can’t say I enjoyed the book, despite being incredibly impressed with all its machinations. If, however, the grotesque and a perpetual sense of doom sound oddly appealing — you have most likely just found the perfect book for you!