HarperCollins, out now
A highly unusual murder case amid the urban decay of Detroit; a paedophile being baited; a journalist desperate for a story – and a dream that needs to be fulfilled…
Lauren Beukes’ fourth novel is as gripping as anything she has written before, plunging you straight into the heart of a terrifying murder enquiry. Why – and indeed how – has someone put the top half of a ten year old boy onto the lower half of a deer?
One of the carefully layered strands of the novel follows the police investigation, as Detective Gabi Versado struggles to understand what has happened, and what could possess someone to act like this – although she has no idea just how accurate that question will prove to be. Her daughter, Layla, has problems of her own, as she and her friend Cas try to lure an online paedophile into the open – and Cas herself has a secret which will rebound on both her and Layla.
The murderer’s identity isn’t concealed: Beukes is more concerned with what is driving Clayton Bloom, with some quite horrifying moments told from inside his head, and he’s far from the only broken monster we encounter in the story. As Bloom’s interactions with others drive the story forward, we meet Jonno, a failed journalist who latches onto what he sees as potentially the next big thing, and TK, a survivor of the streets, as well as those within their orbits. The city of Detroit itself becomes a character (a fact effectively acknowledged on the sleeve for the UK edition), and as with so many of the other characters in the book, Beukes lets us peek beneath the façade presented to the outside world.
There’s an energy to Beukes’ writing that doesn’t let up; at its heart, this is a story about (mis)communication, and she uses many different contemporary modes – contrasting the conversation mother and daughter are having in the real world with the texts that Layla and Cas are simultaneously exchanging. Beukes draws links between the power of the internet and some much darker and older ideas which become more credible the more you consider them.
If you like John Connolly, Michael Marshall Smith or Sarah Pinborough’s combinations of detective tropes with something way outside the normal realm of human experience, you’re going to lap this up.
Verdict: Brilliant, captivating writing draws you into its crescendo of terror. Recommended. 9/10