LitStack Rec: These Charming People & Broken Monsters

by Lauren Alwan
Broken Monsters by Lauren BeukesBROKEN

Now, this is the way it’s done.

Broken Monsters is a horror story where some truly horrible things happen, but it doesn’t exploit the gore for the sake of simple titillation (and there is gore in this book). It shows an urban homicide unit that truly feels like an urban homicide unit, full of bad jokes and austere working conditions, and mostly jaded, tired people at varying degrees of caring, with nary a tech savvy wunderkind or ruggedly handsome, all knowing veteran in sight. It’s got homeless people who aren’t desperate or mentally ill, and some well off folks who are. It’s got teenagers that really do sound and act like teenagers, for better or worse. It confronts some of the headline stories in today’s media feeds without screaming them (although at times screaming does come into play). It even shows a Type 1 diabetic as a credible Type 1 diabetic, and that, my friends, shows a level of authenticity that is often lacking in books that have any predilection towards the sensational.

And it’s sensational.

I mean, it’s sensational AND it’s sensational. Broken Monsters has to do with some shocking things, and not all of those are part of the horror story. The horrific parts of the book are truly awful, partially because they are not really about depravity and cruelty, although depraved and cruel things come from them; they are so bloody (literally) impersonal and yet so very awfully intimate. Other, more personal story lines are awful in other ways, perhaps because of how “mundane” they are. When all the story lines, even those that had nothing to do with the others, are pulled together in an ever tightening knot, the ratcheting tension truly has you on the edge of your seat, afraid to turn the next page but breathlessly compelled to do just so.

And it’s sensationally written. The setting of Detroit is perfect, with all the built in assumptions that most of the world has of that weary city, many of which are acknowledged in Broken Monsters yet without making the city – and especially its people – a scapegoat or easy pickings. The almost seamless transitions between what is real and what is surreal are handled so deftly that they almost get lost in the displays of atrocities that happen so swiftly, until the true focus of those atrocities is revealed and we are overwhelmed.

Incredibly well done.

I’m purposefully not laying out a plot or doing more than simply hint at a storyline because it would feel a bit disingenuous to do so; I would either be teasing or giving up way too much. Suffice it to say that this is a book of horror, a book of the supernatural, a detective/crime/thriller novel, and a kind of moral statement on society’s self-righteousness and our own sense of self-importance.

I’ll simply say that although there is one evil entity that develops throughout Broken Monsters, there’s a reason why the title reflects the plural.

Masterful. This one will stay with you for a long time.

—Sharon Browning


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