Broken Monsters

Lauren Beukes
Broken Monsters Cover

Broken Monsters


It's been a while since I read a good horror novel. Broken Monsters proved to be just the thing I needed, turning out to be a cross-genre piece with mystery and thriller elements as well. Also, high time I read something from Lauren Beukes, and looks like I've been missing out all this time.

Of course, the best part is the paranormal elements. I'm a big fan of the supernatural or the otherworldly in my horror; to me they make the story more interesting by often ramping up the creep factor. From the outset, however, and actually for much of the novel, Broken Monsters presents itself as a police crime mystery, opening with the bizarre and grisly find of a body. Apparently the disturbed killer had taken the top half of a boy's corpse and the bottom half of a deer's corpse and somehow fused the two together. This is definitely not a safe and cheery read, and the squeamish reader should be aware of some scenes in here that are just downright twisted and weird.

An atmosphere of gloom and despair settles like a shroud over the story, taking place in the economically hard hit city of Detroit. We follow the events of the investigation through the eyes of a handful of characters - the hardened and experienced Detective Gabriella Versado who has the role of lead investigator on the murder case morbidly codenamed "Bambi"; her daughter Layla, a precocious teenager who nonetheless finds herself tangled in different kinds of trouble while her mother spends most of her time on police work; Jonno, a journalist desperately trying to make a name for himself and getting lucky by stumbling upon the case while covering the underground art scene in Detroit; Thomas Keen AKA T.K., a vagrant with a good heart who just wants to forget his checkered past and stay clean going forward. And of course, every now and then we also get glimpses into the mind of the killer himself, and those snippets sure aren't pretty.

What is the connection between a teenager and a homeless man? Or the link between an upstart journalist and a Detroit detective? Thing is, everyone has a role to play in this novel, and half the fun was watching the lives of these disparate people unfold and seeing how it all comes together. Broken Monsters is about the hunt for a deranged serial killer, to apprehend him before more badly mutilated bodies turn up, but it's also about so much more. Beukes goes in depth for each of her characters, going into their pasts and digging up their deepest secrets and own personal monsters. By painting her characters in this naked and blunt realism, the author in turn adds another layer to her gritty, chilling tale.

I really like these kinds of psychological thrillers, the ones that seek not to bombard you with blood and gore. Even though there are some graphic scenes in Broken Monsters, they are not gratuitous. Instead, the story worms its way down to unsettle the reader at a deeper level, stirring up a sense of dread that doesn't go away as you're reading. I always find these horror novels to be more effective, because experience tends to stay with me longer. Once the spell is cast, it wraps around you and doesn't let go very easily.

Like I said, there is a paranormal element here but it doesn't come into play until quite late in the novel. Personally speaking, that is perhaps the only less-than-ideal factor, but it's by no means a disappointment. I enjoyed the police procedural-type style of storytelling when it came into play, and also took everything else - like Jonno's journalistic ventures or Layla's teenage shenanigans - in stride. I loved the feeling of being held in suspense, wondering who might be the next victim or when the police might make a breakthrough. The ending was really what made Broken Monsters for me, when everything came to a head in the most uncanny and freaky way imaginable.

If you're looking for a horror-thriller that's a bit different, I would highly recommend this book. Characters, setting and themes all came together very nicely to deliver one hell of an experience. I'm definitely going to be reading more of Lauren Beukes after this.