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高级阅读_06 ‘Broken Monsters':A Killer's on the Loose in Detroit

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2019年05月07日

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06 ‘Broken Monsters':A Killer's on the Loose in Detroit

Reading this crime novel set in Detroit is a bit like watching Treme, the TV series about New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.The characters are people we recognize, but behind the story lies our awareness that they are living in a city that has been profoundly altered, in ways we can't necessarily immediately grasp.

The through-line is a series of exceptionally gruesome homicides, and the investigator on the killer's trail is Detective Gabi Versado.She's hard-boiled enough to refer to corpses as “foreclosed people,” but likable nonetheless as she works the case while mentoring a rookie and wrangling a teenage daughter.

The novel shifts points of view among several characters all coping with their own kind of damage: There's Versado's smart daughter Layla, dealing with a severe case of adolescent self-consciousness, her parents' divorce, and the can—I—die—now humiliation of a mom who occasionally picks her up in a Crown Vic with the lights and siren going.Jonno, a freelance writer, has come to Detroit to try to write serious, important stories instead of “listicles,” click-friendly Internet items like “Ten Rules for the New Gentleman's Guide to Dating.”Thomas Keen, a recovered alcoholic, runs a soup kitchen but makes a living scavenging from foreclosed houses.

Broken Monsters doesn't go into the history of Detroit's economic decline, its bankruptcy, or the plunge in population that has left swaths of the city vacant and “dragging its hefty symbolism behind it like tin cans behind a car marked ‘Just Married.' ” Though Beukes is South African, she skewers media images of Detroit and its “ruin porn” with the enthusiasm of a local and portrays a vibrant community of artists letting the city inspire them.

When Jonno's girlfriend takes him to see the former Packard automobile plant, she refers to it as “the number one Death-of-America pilgrimage destination.” The only difference between hipsters exploring abandoned buildings and tourists at ancient temples, Beukes notes, is that “the former use more filters on their photographs and the latter have audio guides.”

No wonder the novel turns an unfriendly eye on Jonno, who starts making videos about Detroit that have little more integrity than his listicles. He's a less sympathetic character than the murderer himself.

A subplot about the dangerous online adventures of Layla and her best friend Cas takes quite a bit of time away from the murders.But it furthers the novel's theme of the uncontrollable, destructive nature of social media and the Internet.And given Layla's central role in the story's denouement, maybe the murders are the subplot to her coming-of-age story.

The search for the “Detroit Monster” ultimately arrives, as you suspect it will, in a scary confrontation in an abandoned factory.

Beukes' last, successful novel, The Shining Girls, mixed time—traveling with a murder mystery, and here she involves the supernatural, as well—or at least the possibility.Wrapping all the threads of her story together in the final pages, Beukes lets her kite go way, way up until readers may wonder if she's lost hold of the string.But she reels it back in sufficiently, so you know you're in the hands of a very accomplished flyer.


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