I picked this one up after seeing a number of authors who I respect rave about it on Twitter, citing that it was wildly original and disturbing. They weren't wrong. Plus, I mean, great title, and great cover art.
All right, negative thoughts first.
While the opening chapter is instantly compelling and promises dark and tasty things to come, the story almost immediately slows down after that, and moves forward at a painfully strolling pace for another 200 pages.
Essentially, the first half of the book feels like a whole lot of material (too much) and character development setting up for a couple of big numbers that play out in the second half. That seems reasonable enough and I understand it is the way, after all, that many books are structured, but in this case I just could not get interested in most of these characters (the book jumps between roughly five different storylines that eventually cross paths). I found myself ultimately only caring about/sympathizing with Gabi (the lead detective investigating the gruesome Detroit murders) and her daughter Layla.
Clayton Broom, a creator of unsettling tableaux art pieces made from clay and odd miscellany, is a curious presence from the start, and for that reason, also a quickly absorbing as a character.
Most of the events and characters in the first half of the book do more or less come into play later on, but at 440+ pages, there were certain chapters that absolutely felt like filler. There was a point when I almost put the book down because I just couldn't tell where it was going, and didn't care. If it had been shortened by 50 pages or so, it would have been stronger and tighter all around. Just saying.
Okay, now the good stuff.
The above criticisms aside, right around the halfway point, the book explodes into fascinating madness and intrigue, and moves more like a thriller with some pretty bizarre elements around the corners. The main characters really begin to come into their own, and I found myself invested (finally) in their fates as circumstances got more intense. Along with this, Beukes really starts to crank up—pardon me—the weird shit, and let me tell you, she's got one hell of an imagination. Breadcrumbs she had left for the reader in way earlier chapters begin to pay off as the plot comes together, and the scope and cleverness of the novel as a whole begins to shine through.
This book has been called “genre-bending,” which it is, and delightfully so. With elements of this sort, Beukes has the ability to be subtle until she is very not-subtle, and the result is supremely satisfying. Picture Michel Gandry and David Lynch dropping acid together, then deciding to make a horror film with an unlimited budget. To put it simply: things get pretty trippy.
Barring the weak first half, this was an enjoyable, mind-bending read. Beukes has a strong voice, and an ability to write realistic people into bizarre situations. I love an author with a hearty knack for THE STRANGE. Recommended for fans of The X-Files, The Twilight Zone, Twin Peaks, and any crime thriller that doesn't mind dabbling in the weird and gruesome.