Friday, 29 May 2015

Broken Monsters

Getting into a serial killer's mind was something Lauren Beukes did brilliantly in The Shining Girls. It helped that it had an interesting premise beyond the normal serial killer plot, with the time travel twist. I read a lot - certainly more than the vast majority of people - and when I describe The Shining Girls as the best book I've read in a very long time, it's a compliment that should carry some weight.

Broken Monsters is Beukes's new book (released in paperback last month). Like The Shining Girls, it's a serial killer thriller. Unlike its predecessor, however, there isn't a supernatural twist. The monsters are purely within the real world. But the horror elements are dialled to the maximum. This is no cosy crime caper. It's a book that will get under your skin and leave you seeing things in the night.

The first murder in Broken Monsters is graphic and chilling. A boy is found with his bottom half removed and with his legs replaced by the back half of a deer. The ensuing investigation goes deep into the weird art underworld of Detroit.

There's more going on than just murders. As is Beukes's trademark, there's a tech-savvy undercurrent, a la Moxyland. This time, the horrors of the underworld of social media are exposed by detective protagonist Gabi Verdaso's teenage daughter, Layla. And there's 'journalist' Jonno, who follows the case from its outset.

A lot goes on. It's a complex book that always manages to stay the right side of convoluted. Plotlines stay a long way apart at first, but gradually bind themselves up into one. It's difficult not to admire the skilful plotting that has gone into the book. I seem to remember from the extra bits in The Shining Girls that Beukes plots her books like a detective charts a case, making links and following leads. Her planning shows, as does her growing confidence and assurance as a writer. It needs to be remembered that Broken Monsters is only her fourth novel.

I enjoyed the book immensely, from the nicely-paced opening to the pulse-pounding conclusion, but that isn't to say I didn't have complaints. The main one of which is that it's too long.

There are three distinct climaxes in the book. The killer is known to the police by just past the halfway mark, at the party that marks the first of those climaxes. The second - abortive - climax happens a little later. The final climax is the conclusion.

Although the conclusion is exhilarating, I can't help but wonder whether the back half of the book needed to do everything that it did. There was particular one strand of the narrative that felt like it was unnecessary. Although everything needed to be brought to a conclusion, it felt drawn out, slowing the pace, albeit without killing it.

But the question should be asked: did I enjoy the book despite this weakness? Absolutely, and immensely. The next time I see that Lauren Beukes has a new book out, I'll be in the queue waiting for it. It's refreshing to see a writer trying alternative takes on the old tropes. If you're looking for a thriller with horror elements which both scares and compels, I can recommend Broken Monsters.