Book Review: Broken Monsters

Broken city, broken dreams

In Detroit, violent death – along with foreclosure and despair – is a regular occurrence. But the part-human, part-animal corpses that have started appearing are more disturbing than anything Detective Gabriella Versado has ever seen[…]

[…]Broken Monsters lays bare the decaying corpse of the American Dream, and asks what we’d be prepared to do for fifteen minutes of fame, especially in an online world.

Lauren Beukes is pretty much on my auto-buy list (I mean, if I had the means to have an auto-buy list). I own most of her books, including her out-of-print Maverick, and Broken Monsters will soon be added.

Granted, I first read Beukes’ Zoo City (my review) because she is a great South African author and because her South African fiction is just out of this world. But just as she crosses the boundaries of genres and mashes together concepts that other authors can’t successfully do, she is crossing the boundaries of description.

The Shining Girls and now Broken Monsters have proven her mettle as a writer. They say “write what you know” – Beukes is from neither Chicago nor Detroit, but in both cases she did her research so well that the places became tangible. Her twitter followers are also pretty familiar with her escapades to the settings of her books – I seem to remember her once tweeting about shadowing a Detroit undertaker for a day. (This BookD podcast with Beukes is totally worth the listen – do it!)

As for the story: I’ll admit that I was unsure at first that I would read it. As I repeatedly say, I’m a major scaredy-cat. Anyway, I read it. After the description of the first victim – right at the beginning of the book – I was a little spooked. I decided then that I would only read the book in the daylight. (That helped.) But then, the book is not really thaaaaaat scary. It is touted as a thriller, but the killer is revealed pretty early on in the plot (and it is done purposefully).

So what you should know about Broken Monsters is that you cannot take it at face value. Beukes is a genius, and everything she writes about has a purpose – and the purpose is not confined to “being thrilling”. As fantastic as her writing is – honest, tangible, raw – it is also a commentary. Commentary on technology, on art and artists, on the evil that can grow from our dreams. Commentary on the power an audience gives to a creation – a hope, a desire.

broken monsters quote

The disturbing imagery is not confined to bodies (but I will leave you to discover that yourself). Despite that – or perhaps because of it – I think this would be a fantastic book to discuss in an undergrad class. I feel the need to read this again, with guidance from and discussion with other readers. It is incredible reading it for “just reading”, but I get the feeling there is even more waiting beneath the surface.

Of course, I should warn that it might upset sensitive readers – but you’ll know from the full blurb whether you can handle it. What I appreciate is that Beukes approaches the gruesomeness with a lot of respect. You don’t get the sense of some kind of macabre pleasure that one sometimes sees in horror/thriller type books. As somebody who has lost loved ones to violence, that distinction means a lot.

Like many of Beukes’ books, Broken Monsters is told in multiple POVs. Not first-person POVs though, and this “deviation” gives it a distinct atmosphere. The characterisation is great, so there is no confusion, but I must admit that I didn’t feel as attracted to these characters as in previous books. Of course, it is a myth that a good character must be a likable one!

As for the covers… I feel kind of meh about the USA and UK covers. The SA cover (up top) is the best of the lot for me – detailed and artsy and me likey.

Overall, I found this to be a gripping and disturbing read – for more reasons than the obvious.

I received an eARC of this book via Netgalley and Mulholland Books in exchange for an honest review. This has not biased my review.


  1. Thanks for the review! I have been umming and ahing about reading it. I read The Shining Girls, but none of her others.

    1. If you liked The Shining Girls I think you will definitely like Broken Monsters. Not sure where you’re from but a lot of internationals didn’t enjoy her other books because they seem a little odd if you haven’t been to SA!

  2. I saw her tweet the other day that the first printing is almost sold out. I’m thinking I should head over to Kalahari and order me a copy. And the covers of the SA editions are all the best. I don’t know why the readers in other parts of the world can’t get to enjoy them as well.

    1. Yes! I saw that. I wanted to buy a copy but Exclusive Books only had soft covers and I kind of want a hard cover… and they only had the UK cover and no ways do I want that!

  3. OMG, that cover! (the SA one) But it’s Lauren Beukes… I tried to read The Shining Girls (because it, too, sounded awesome) but couldn’t get into it… But maybe I should give her another chance….

    1. Mmmmh. I have to concede that Beukes’ writing style takes some getting used to. I DNF’ed Zoo City twice before falling in love with it on the third try. But I understand that one doesn’t always want to keep trying, sometimes you just want an author to suck you in immediately!
      In your case, maybe try Shining Girls again if your library has a copy, or try Broken Monsters at the library, and only spend money on it if you think you could get into it. I think she’s awesome so I would say try again, but I would try the library or a sampler first.

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