Broken Monsters, the most recent novel by Lauren Beukes, takes readers on a relentless thrill ride through the inner city of Detroit in the aftermath of a horrific murder. The diverse cast of characters includes Gabriella, the detective assigned to homicide; Layla, her fearless teenage daughter toying with a dangerous online flirtation; and Jonno, a washed up journalist desperate to make his big break. These characters’ stories draw closer and closer together as the search for the madman committing the twisted murders becomes ever more desperate.
As a crime thriller, Broken Monsters works well. The plot never stagnates, in part helped by the perspective shifting between characters with every chapter. The reader stays aware of the growing threat and horror that the murderer presents, even as the police trail behind in the race to catch him. By the time that the separate threads all tie together, Beukes has created a palpable sense of dread that continues until the climax of the novel.
The bizarre and grisly nature of the murders also helps to sustain the sense of terror – this novel is definitely not for the squeamish! The tight-knit plot does begin to falter slightly towards the end of the novel, particularly when the supernatural elements become more pronounced without any warning.
Still, the story remains consistently engaging.
However, the most interesting aspect of Broken Monsters isn’t the story itself, but instead the way that the novel completely exists within the context of Internet culture. Although the story is set in present-day Detroit, you don’t need to know anything about the city in order to enjoy it. However, without a current and deep knowledge of the Internet and its latest fads, Broken Monsters might be indecipherable. Characters constantly drop references to short-lived memes, most notably with Layla naming her pet NyanCat. Towards the end of the novel, short sections of the text itself are structured to read as if they actually are articles from BuzzFeed or threads from Reddit. Much of this book would be meaningless to a reader who isn’t already familiar with past and current Internet trends. Even though the occasional unusual formatting and references to current online culture make the book feel extremely contemporary, they may make this book seem hopelessly outdated in as little as five years.
The obsession with the Internet and how it’s wound itself into people’s lives continues on a thematic level. With the exception of Gabriella, every character is aware of our culture’s need for “eyeballs” on the Internet at a gut level. Jonno obsesses over how to gain more followers, leaving behind writing for an attempt at YouTube stardom. Layla’s story delves into the darker side of this idea, addressing the sexual exploitation of young girls over online visual media. Even the supernatural forces that are compelling the villain to kill have a primal need to be seen – it’s heavily implied that they need new believers to even exist in our world, and a livestreamed event is the perfect way to convert people.
Even in a world of fifteen-second videos and endless listicles, Broken Monsters is well worth a read. The story itself is sure to leave you with a few macabre chills, even at its clumsiest. However, the most unsettling thing about the novel may just be the questions that it leaves you with regarding yourself and the way you interact with the online world. When fame on the Internet is the ultimate prize for everyone, just who or what are you feeding with your follows? Despite its minor flaws, this novel will stay with you long after you’re done reading.