As we close in on October 31, AiPT! will be reviewing and recommending various pieces of underappreciated scary media—books, comics, movies, and television—to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way to Halloween.
When a book opens with the discovery of a dead teenager’s torso fused to the lower half of a deer, it’s hard to believe things can get much crazier from there. But Broken Monsters isn’t your average horror book. The gruesome crime scene also serves as the calling card of a man possessed by an evil far beyond human comprehension.
Despite its terrifying premise, Broken Monsters remains grounded via an exceptional cast, all of whom are affected in different ways by an afflicted serial killers’ demented spirit quest.
Detective Gabriella Versado: Lead detective on the case. In typical police vs. pyscho fashion, she becomes obsessed with catching the killer. What makes her different, however, is how well drawn she is. Acting as the primary POV for the story, she goes from Detective Versado to Gabi with exceptional ease. Her flaws are definitely on display, but not in the trope-ladden ways that you usually see in a tale like this. Beukes also makes Gabi so relatable/likable that her obsession with catching the killer becomes rational, both to her and the reader.
Layla: Gabbi’s 15-year old, wise-beyond-her age-but-still-impulsive daughter. As someone who teaches kids near this age group, I can safely say that Beukes nails the characterization. She and her friend Cassie (another great character) make a hobby out of catfishing and exposing pedophiles online. As you might imagine, this leads to some very bad things.
TK: A kind-hearted homeless man who gets caught up in the killer’s vortex and Gabi’s case.
Jonno: A douchebag writer who is attempting to make a name for himself (ugh) by writing about how much Detroit sucks. Speaking of that…
Detroit: I know it’s cliché to refer to really good settings as characters, but it definitely applies here. Within Detroit’s crumbling exterior are multiple examples of noble resilience and putrid depravity, all of which are brought to the fore by an evil older than anything in the city’s storied history.
The Killer: I won’t name him here, but his identity doesn’t remain a secret for very long. In fact, Beukes takes us inside his head quite a few times, which ends up creating some of the book’s best and most chilling chapters. The Killer is also one of the most uniquely bizarre forces of evil I’ve ever read. There’s a tragic side to him stops just short of earning your sympathy before he starts messing with your head again.
There are a few other points of view we get to see, all of which are completely distinct from the others. Beukes voices and personifies all her characters so well that its almost as if they were written by a multitude of insanely talented authors. Their one common trait is Beukes’ comfortable/natural prose, which reads so well that you never run the risk of confusing or forgetting who someone is. (And I say this as someone who has to constantly consult Wikipedia while reading A Song of Ice and Fire).
Out of the hundreds of novels I’ve read, I’ve never seen an author who can develop and juggle multiple characters better than Beukes. Her ability to do this is so good, in fact, that I invented a word for it (which never really caught on, but oh well).
For those of you who read my platitudes about Broken Monsters’ great characters and thought “Oh great, it’s one of those horror books,” fear not. Or fear a lot, actually. This book is scary as hell. After Beukes gets you super attached to the cast, she deftly puts them in varying degrees of physical and psychological danger that refuses to let you put the book down. The overarching story of the killer (and the hunt to find/stop him) is interesting enough on its own, but the impact his actions have on the others make it so there is never a lull during the narrative’s development.
The story’s supernatural aspect starts as a small seed before exploding into one of the most awesome third acts you can imagine. Beukes deftly portrays what happens when something simultaneously beyond human comprehension and easy to explain/debunk runs into violent conflict with those who seek it.
I know that might sound frustrating, especially if you’re someone like me who hates when authors use ambiguity to hide their lack of conviction. But that’s not what Beukes is doing here. Everything we see—and don’t see—is from multiple views that all perfectly align with their source, leading to one of the most satisfying endings to a novel that I’ve ever read.
What Doesn’t Work
As much as I loved the third act, it did feel like a bit of a leap. Beukes planted plenty of seeds for it, but the growth was very compressed compared to how well she developed the rest of the narrative.
Could anyone else have done it better? In my humble opinion: Hell no.
You’d be hard pressed to find another writer who could pull off such a crazy ending so organically. While I would have liked the link between where we started and ended to be a little stronger, the road Broken Monsters uses to get us there is still one hell of a great ride.
If you’re looking for a book that hooks you in before finishing with a shot of pure narrative adrenaline, read Broken Monsters.
If you’re looking for a book that creates characters who you will think about (and even miss) once you turn the final page, read Broken Monsters.
If you’re looking for a book that examines our current culture with a biting sense of sarcastic humor and piercing lens, read Broken Monsters.
I really can’t say enough about this book, but my editor Patrick Ross is sending me threatening emails about the evil spirit that overtakes his soul when I miss my deadlines. So I’ll close by imploring you to go pick up Broken Monsters if you haven’t already…and not to go to any hipster art exhibits unless you have a friend to watch your back.