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Broken Monsters (Reading Group Guide) Paperback – June 16, 2015
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"This one has a vivid sense of place and a colorful and interesting cast of characters . . . I will be looking forward to whatever Lauren Beukes does next. She's a major, major talent."―George R. R. Martin, BookBub
"Exquisitely paced and impeccably controlled . . . An enormously satisfying novel that employs the best attributes of multiple genres to dramatize big ideas about art, the Internet and urban decay."―New York Times Book Review
"Captivating . . . A thoroughly modern, supernatural thriller."―Karolina Waclawiak, Los Angeles Times
"Remarkable is Beukes's ability to blend genres, seamlessly incorporating horror, fantasy and traditional crime in ways that highlight the best parts of each. It feels new--unprecedented, in a way."―Madison Vain, Entertainment Weekly
"It's hard to overstate how ambitious Broken Monsters is, maybe because Beukes somehow manages to make it look easy. Her prose is unhindered, exuberant and something like addictive. . . . Broken Monsters is one of the most remarkable books of the year, and one of the best suspense novels you'll read in quite some time."―Michael Schaub, NPR
"Scary as hell and hypnotic. I couldn't put it down. . . . I'd grab it, if I were you."―Stephen King
"Dig it: what a brilliant crime-phantasmagoria novel this is!!!!! This splendid novel is THE new primer on urban decay to the nth degree. I unhesitatingly urge you to buy it and read it now!"―James Ellroy
About the Author
Lauren Beukes writes novels, comics and screenplays. She's the author of the critically-acclaimed international bestseller, The Shining Girls, about a time-traveling serial killer, Zoo City, a phantasmagorical Joburg noir which won the 2011 Arthur C Clarke Award, and the neo political thriller Moxyland. She worked as a journalist, a show runner on one of the South Africa's biggest animated TV shows, directed an award-winning documentary and wrote the New York Times best-selling graphic novel, Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom. She lives in Cape Town, South Africa.
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Broken Monsters is about a killer in Detroit who turns his victims into grotesque works of art. But there’s something mysterious fueling his vision, as he’s possessed by an eerie force that has inhabited his body – a force that’s driving him to create a masterpiece that thrives off of being seen and threatens to invade our collective conscious.
If that sounds weird, it’s because it is. But Beukes manages to keep the story grounded enough in reality that it never feels silly. Her characters are believable, interesting and each relevant in ways that gradually become apparent.
Ultimately, Beukes has created a fresh thriller for the social media generation: a desensitized, fame-obsessed culture of clickbait headlines, virality and 15 seconds of fame. There are those who believe that art is meaningless without an audience, and Broken Monsters uses this concept as a sort of commentary on our culture, challenging us to weigh the potential consequences of being seen.
Lauren Beukes novel is largely a crime, cop vs. killer "thriller" that takes place in the broken streets of Detroit. The premise involves a killer mutilating corpses into human-animal hybrids and leaving his victims around the city as art pieces in an attempt to garner attention to his deeds. The protagonists of the story, including Gabi, a veteran detective who attempts to decipher the killer's messages; Layla, Gabi's daughter; TK, a wanderer through the streets of Detroit, and Jonno, a washed-up reporter hoping to make it big, are all pulled into what is overall a satisfying read that is held back by a number of larger issues that inhibit the story's potential.
Broken Monsters is largely made out to be a supernatural horror/thriller. I should preface this section by saying that I have yet to read anything in which I am legitimately frightened, and thus may be biased. While the story itself is usually tense and the killer is perhaps the most interesting character of the bunch and legitimately threatening, there were no times when I was scared for the fate of any of the characters. Calling it a thriller is also a bit of a stretch, due to this fact, as it is not until towards the end that any of the primary characters are put in a very threatening situation. Granted, the second half is captivating and definitely builds up to be suspenseful, which drew me in. In terms of horror, however, what is achieved by the novel is creepy at best, but isn't quite deserving of the 'horrifying'. Similarly, the supernatural elements are almost out of place and in my opinion are poorly planned, as it isn't until towards the end that anything roughly supernatural begins to take place, and ultimately these elements confuse and muddle what could have been a fantastic and satisfying ending. Frankly, what was achieved was a somewhat messy, overdrawn and bizarre conclusion that ultimately fails to suspend disbelief. The supernatural elements are open-ended however, which makes up for it a bit depending on interpretation.
Overall, the characters are split down the middle on likabiltiy and often necessity. Gabi, or Detective Versado, is a strong, if not somewhat overdone, authority figure who has a complicated family life and carries the weight of the job on her shoulders. She is a nice piece of the puzzle, and serves as an overall solid protagonist. I also found myself very invested in TK, as his placed importance on family and friends paired with a greyed moral compass and a tragic backstory made for a lovable and relatable man who is merely struggling in rough economic times. I found Layla, the detective's daughter, necessary to Gabi's behavior, though her side-story with her friend Cas (who is almost 'too' cool) largely unnecessary and doesn't particular have any sort of relation to the overall plot, definitely not worthy of mention as one of the strong points of the book like the back cover would have you to believe. As for the journalist, Jonno, I almost despised him in the beginning and was neutral about him in the end. Maybe it was that I found him to be sort of a hack (although he does have a fairly good backstory and motivation), but I really didn't care for him. The killer was a solid villain in my opinion, tying together sick tendencies with a desire for fame, though his development does suffer from the supernatural aspects, particularly towards the end.
Overall, Broken Monsters is an entertaining read, though not a serious thriller or deserving of award. The story slugs a bit through the third or half, but is actually captivating up to the conclusion. The writing style is a bit casual for my tastes, and often Beukes throws needless cultural references in, as if to say "look at how hip and modern I am," but it generally works in such a modern setting. The characters are a bit underdeveloped, but those who are fleshed out have exciting backstories and proper motivation (even Jonno, admittedly). It is a 3.5/5 novel that could have been a solid crime novel with more refinement and the supernatural portions done away with entirely, as the 'magic' ultimately clouds the ending in an obstructive haze that diminishes what otherwise could have been a satisfying conclusion to what was otherwise a decent, largely captivating read, at least in the second half.
All in all I enjoyed the ride, even to the point of reading through a couple of work assignments because I had to know what happened next. Potential readers just be warned that you're dipping into a great big book of weird rather than a police procedural. Otherwise highly recommended.
CONS: Towards the end things there seemed to be some loose ends...there is a bit about an exchange for crime scene pictures for ten grand. The pictures are apparently exchanged, but I never heard resolution on the money? An incident happens between the detective's daughter and a boy from school-there's a tense exchange between the parents and then it's never mentioned again except to say the parents dropped the charges. I would've liked a teensy bit of an explanation. Or a hint of what exactly was going on. Up until the end I thought the serial killer was mentally ill or schizophrenic, but apparently it was more demonic? I'm not really sure. The daughter-who sees things the same as the serial killer suggests it's bc she discovered one of the bodies-but her mother isn't affected at all and she's seen all the bodies...
Despite these discrepancies I would still recommend this book and I enjoyed it b