Review: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

broken monstersLauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls was a game-changing take on the serial killer genre. Beukes’ uncanny ability to seamlessy meld traditional crime fiction with jarring supernatural elements delivered scares in all the right places. While the author continues the trend in Broken Monsters however, the comparisons to its predecessor are kept to a minimum. This is no Shining Girls 2.

In a decaying Detroit, teeming with ruin-porn tourists, artists and hipsters all vying for 15 minutes of social media fame, Clayton, a failed artist possessed by an unknown entity embarks on an unprecedented killing spree, turning his victims into even more disturbing artistic creations. Detective Gabi Versado leads the case, while also dealing with her teenage daughter Layla who with her friend have been secretly baiting paedophiles online. Also in the mix is Jonno, a failed writer and wannabe journalist hoping for a quick fix of fame and chasing the dream of overnight social media success at any cost, and TK, a homeless man salvaging what he can to survive in a dead city.

Fans of intense serial killer shows like Hannibal or Dexter will find nothing new in the methodology of our killer here, fusing human and animal body parts, arranging bodies in artistic poses as elaborate art pieces. We’ve seen it all at this stage and had these acts been portrayed 10 years ago we would have found them abhorrent but while we acknowledge the brutality of these murders we ourselves have become desensitised to the violence. What is more frightening is that it’s difficult to ascertain at what point Clayton ends and his unknown controlling force takes over, or indeed the level of which it’s controlling him.

 The other victim in this book of course is Detroit itself. Beukes has done a fantastic job of evoking the atmosphere of a crumbling city that refuses to resign itself to its fate and despite the horror and destruction it hosts there is an underlying spark of hope for its recovery. Her feel for the city is genuine and well-researched as is her depiction of the not only the Detroit Police Department’s procedures but their everyday lives.

On another level Broken Monsters is a brilliant and cynical study of social media and modern culture and how it’s developing. The annoying investigative journalist trope has been replaced by the annoying blogger, kids are getting their kicks online now and even the least tech-savvy among us use some form of electronic communication device or other. We’re all globally connected, whether we like it or not. We’re all just a message away from each other. I can send Lauren Beukes a message on Twitter right now. This world didn’t exist ten years ago. What’s interesting about Clayton’s character is that he is largely unaware of this and his discovery of its potential to bring his “work” to the masses inspires him to create even more. One of the running jokes with Jonno is his disdain for arty, pretentious hipsters, not realising that he is one himself.  

The writing style has changed much since the author’s last outing. Broken Monsters is dialogue heavy, almost like a screenplay (apt considering it has already been picked up for a TV show in the US) but that dialogue is contemporary and snappy and fits perfectly with Beukes’ edgy and superbly descriptive prose although at times is feels like the pace is determined more by the conversations between the characters than the actual narrative and the conclusion itself feels a little rushed.

Niggles aside, Broken Monsters is a sharp, scary, genre-bending tale, as comfortable with its social commentary as it is with its gruesome atrocities, as likely to provoke thought as it is to induce chills to the reader’s spine and further cements Lauren Beukes standing as a leading light in the next generation of horror writers.

Eamon Ambrose

Blog Awards Update!

blog_buttons_FINALISTMwah! Finalists for Blog Awards Ireland 2014 have been announced and I’m nominated for not one but two awards – Best Arts And Culture Blog and Best Blog also. This is a huge surprise for me I never even expected to get this far.

Once again sincere thanks so much to anyone who judged and to all the authors and publishers who help keep this blog afloat with their brilliant work and good company and of course to everyone who takes the time to not only read my reviews, but hopefully the books also.

The awards ceremony is on October 4th so fingers crossed!

 

Book Review: The Fourth Sage by Stefan Bolz

In a Bolz_FOURTH_SAGE_AudioEdition2world becoming oversaturated with dystopian YA tales all vying for the hard-earned money of beleaguered parents and desperate to grab the attention of movie producers to become the Next Big Thing, it’s easy to become cynical about the genre. It’s become tired and formulaic and other than a few mainstream successes like The Hunger Games and Divergent (which quite frankly to me were tired and formulaic also, but I’m not a teen so what do I know?) there has been little new to the table of late.

Stefan Bolz’s The Fourth Sage has an interesting take on the classic dystopian theme, where people are now living in super structures, enormous self-contained high-rises controlled by a ruthless corporation. Aries Egan, a repressed fifteen year-old girl “steals” an hour each night by hacking into the mainframe and creating a camera loop, exploring the air ducts where she actually works during the day. She makes a discovery that will change her life forever and sets in motion a chain of events that force her to make a decision to either continue with her mundane everyday life or to search for the truth about her existence, her past and her future.

It would be easy to point out the obvious influences here, but I don’t think there’s a need to. Bolz has created a unique world, injecting a fresh vision into a tired genre. The world-building is of an epic scale based in a huge infrastructure which has been meticulously constructed and has an unnerving way of becoming even bigger as new areas are discovered by Aries and her friends.

The story unfolds nicely, gradually building pace and developing the main characters. Interestingly, Aries’ character is probably the slowest to develop, but as the narrative progresses it’s clear that her treatment at the hands of her “employers” is a contributing factor here, and when she does finally face her situation she becomes a far more interesting person.

Thankfully Bolz decides not to cash in on the current trend of introducing overly complicated relationships or John Green style tragic romances. This is sci-fi damn it, and while there are relationships forming as the story progresses they rightfully take a back seat to, well – not getting eviscerated by thousands of deadly androids and this is totally fine by me. There is far too much action to be enjoyed here for that sort of thing.

There are lots of surprises along the way and plenty of twists to keep the reader’s anticipation peaked. The ending builds to a quite surprising reveal which is a total game-changer and forges a solid structure for the next instalment.

I have to give a mention to the creative and editing team involved here. As a self-published work it looks and reads as professionally as anything I have seen from a major publisher and it’s a credit to the author’s hard work.

Eamon Ambrose

Available now on Amazon and Amazon UK