Lauren 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 The annoying investigative journalist trope has been replaced by the annoying blogger, kids are getting their kicks online now and even the least tech-savvy among us use some form of electronic communication device or other.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.