”Dead is dead,” notes the first detective on site at the brutal crime scene that opens Broken Monsters. ”It’s only the hows and whys that vary…. But even violence has its creative limits.”
So do serial-killer thrillers. It falls to the author, then, to pull something fresh from all that well-trod offal. South African novelist Beukes managed it masterfully in last year’s time-traveling best-seller The Shining Girls, and she does it again in Monsters, fleshing out stock characters — tough-as-nails lady cop, ritualistic mad-man murderer, unscrupulous journalist on the make — and imbuing her story with shrewd social commentary, dark humor, and a dusting of metaphysical wonder.
The first body that shows up on a chilly Detroit night is unusual, even for Murder City: the head and torso of a 10-year-old boy crudely attached to the lower half of a deer. More grotesque taxidermies follow, though their maker isn’t a mystery; Beukes tells us whodunit almost from the outset. That eliminates the ”how” but not the ”why,” which turns out to be a more complicated kind of beast. Monsters may not totally get at the bigger indictments it’s aiming for, but it still delivers something smarter and sharper than your average splatter paperback. Gore is easy, after all; gutsy writing is a lot harder. B+