Written by: Lauren Beukes
Published in: 2014
Synopsis: Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies, but this one is unique even by Detroit's standards: half-boy, half-deer, somehow fused. The cops nickname him "Bambi," but as stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams?
“Shakespeare would have it wrong these days. It's not the world that's the stage - it's social media, where you're trying to put on a show. The rest of your life is rehearsals, prepping in the wings to be fabulous online.”
This is going to be a tricky book to review. Like Gone Girl or any mystery book ever, it's best to go into this one knowing the bare minimum. So I'm going to be tip toeing around a lot here, but bottom line, you should probably read this book.
Talking broad picture, the book is about the hunt for a serial killer in Detroit. The book is told from multiple perspectives, the lead detective Detective Versado, her theatre-loving daughter Layla, writer/douchebag extraordinaire Jonno, TK the homeless guy with a heart of gold and struggling artist Clayton. Detective Versado gets the lion share of the narrative, but the others weave in to add new perspectives and depth and transform this from your typical whodunnit. Talking a little more specifically though, it's not really about a serial killer at all. Well. That's not entirely accurate. The serial killer is critical to the narrative and it is a compelling story in its own right, but Beukes uses the serial killer to build a much stronger story of life in today's world of technology and the ramifications of all of these digital versions of ourselves.
The characters may seem a little cookie cutter-ish from my quick summary above, and on the surface they are. But even for the smaller characters like TK, backstory is woven in to give them their motivations, and the greatest motivation for all of them is the city they live in. I know it's cliché to say that the setting is a character in the book, but Detroit couldn't have been exchanged for just any other city. These characters are pushed beyond their limits by the city they live in. Detective Versado is underpaid and overworked, a female struggling to find footing in a career dominated by men, in a city where crime has become a fact of life. TK's struggled his whole life because of a choice made in his adolescence, and opportunities aren't exactly plentiful for a black ex-con who lives on the street. Jonno crashed and burned in New York and is now dependant on Detroit to lift him from the wreckage. Detroit shaped their pasts and motivates their futures. It is this great big shadow that lingers over everyone's lives and decisions and choices. It's oppressive and dangerous. We see the families leaving home because their houses are being foreclosed on, we walk among the ruins of the factories that were abandoned when the town went bankrupt and we watch as people sleep in their cars in a Walmart carpark because the shelters are full. We get stats about the crime rate and discussions on Renisha McBride. But amongst all of this we also see a burgeoning art scene, gorgeous art deco architecture, secret beaches and a committed community. While the novel never ventures into uplifting territory, it does a solid job of showing us that life does continue even when everything seems lost. People adapt to their environments. Unfortunately, while some people adapt for the better creating something from nothing, for some people this adaptation take on a darker role.
While this book is a crime and mystery novel first and foremost, it also has some really creepy scenes. I wouldn't go so far as to say it crosses into horror, but it definitely flirts on the border. Again, it's better to go in knowing very little. So maybe just trust me when I say that I think this novel is a real gem and worth discovering for yourself.