Book review - Broken Monsters

2014-08-03 15:00

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Broken Monsters joined a pile of holiday reading on my bedside table that consisted largely of literary “end-of-the-month ­Salticrax”– easy-to-read, no-fuss thrillers ­ replete with troubled detectives and deranged psychopaths.

It’s ­always an unnaturally hot summer, or a winter that’s colder than a witch’s tit, in these novels.

Mostly, the good guys win, even if their souls get a bit ­dented in the process.

I saved Broken Monsters for last, ­precisely because even a whodunit turns to magic in Beukes’ hands.

The book, set in America’s decaying industrial heartland, Detroit, begins with a crime scene that is one part gory horror, one part freak show and one part art exhibition.

A young boy is found dead, but where his legs ought to be, detectives are astonished to find the lower body of a deer instead.

Detective Gabi Versado is tasked with figuring out what happened to the boy, and the crime scene ­rapidly becomes one of the least weird elements of the novel.

When Beukes released her last book, The Shining Girls, she was photographed in front of the “murder wall” she’d used to plot that twisty-turny tale.

It was covered in photographs and scraps of paper, visual details linked together with red string.

Some critics complained that The Shining Girls was just too complicated – that while Beukes had the benefit of the red string ­stretching across her wall, readers were likely to quite literally lose the plot.

Broken Monsters is easier to navigate, with different chapters introducing us to a struggling artist desperately seeking a muse and his salvation; Versado’s teenage daughter playing with fire online; a homeless man who trawls abandoned, foreclosed homes and businesses for ­ treasure and, ultimately, a way to rebuild his scattered family; and a writer convinced he’s just one gimmick away from the great American novel.

Their stories could stand alone, but Beukes is a masterful maker of intersections and sets collision courses that will leave you agog.

Broken Monsters isn’t end-of-the-month fare; it’s one of those black pepper Salticrax piled high with rich flavours, and you’d do well to savour it slowly.

Sure, there are mean streets and a twisted killer, but this is no predictable read.

The weather’s not a character, but the lumbering, lost ­Motor City certainly is.

Grab hold and ride the choppy dark waves conjured up by one of South Africa’s finest authors.

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