Many frequent readers of crime fiction (and I count myself in both these numbers) are over the mad serial killer sub-genre. This could make the opening monologue of BROKEN MONSTERS something that makes you put down the book and step away. Whilst the subject matter remains confrontational, often times surreal and vaguely supernatural, there are other aspects worth considering.
We all know the story of the rise and decline of Detroit – from economic power-house to basket-case in a very short period of time. The resulting population decline left decaying buildings and a society going the same way. That community turning to artistic and counter-culture movements as a way of invigorating the place makes enormous sense and the sense of reality and immediacy with which Beukes brings that setting, and those people into this storyline is strong, and utterly believable.
The depravity of the killer's actions, and the sheer madness of his reasoning and behaviour is somehow reflected by the environment. Society goes mad and loses it's compass along with some of the more vulnerable individuals in it. Not to say that there's any apology for Clayton Broom, this reads more as an exploration of breakdown, damage, extremities.
Needless to say it makes for uncomfortable and confrontational reading. The violence is explicit, the methods of killing shocking, and the ramp up of tension palpable. Written with no holds barred, Beukes manages to avoid glorifying any of it, whilst portraying the weirdness.
That sense of damage and struggle is evident in just about everybody in this book. No-one has had an easy path to their present circumstances in Detroit, and whilst there are some good people – each of them has baggage. A situation they are dealing with. Something they are trying to make the best of. As a central character, Detective Gabi Versado, amongst a lot of other heavy lifting is single mother to a teenage daughter. Despite a pretty good relationship, albeit one that's fraught with the difficulties of mothers and teenage daughters, teenagers will be teenagers. Which these days, has online implications. The portrayals of daughter Layla and her friend Caz are strong, and the idea that two young girls would set out to “catfish” some lowlifes on the internet particularly poignant to be reading about in October 2014. Especially when revelations about Caz's own cyber-bullying experience come to light.
All of this is delivered with the extra component of “ruin porn” and an alternative view of the online world, in the character of Jonno. Attempting to leverage an online presence into an influential journalistic voice, Jonno and his girlfriend lose their way, their perspective and a lot more to boot.
Taking on the mad, extreme serial killer motif and placing that in a society that is struggling doesn't excuse the behaviour, but it does attempt to provide some context, and some reasons. Weaving in some salient points about the perils of online presence, BROKEN MONSTERS might not be the easiest read in the world, but it is less of a serial killer exposé and a lot more about about damage and society on the extremes.