Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Read: 13 January, 2013

Imagine if the daemons from Pullman’s His Dark Materials series were real, except that you only got one if you had a guilty conscience. In Zoo City, the animalled are the new criminal element, living in the fringes of society, ghettoed into “zoo cities.” After addiction led to Zinzi December being paired with a sloth, she tries to pay off her debts by finding people’s lost things and writing 419 scam letters. But after a job goes wrong, she becomes entangled in a search for a lost girl…

Beukes’s writing style is fantastic, and she made good use of alternative chapters – articles from a fictional movie database describing a documentary on the first famous case of an animalled individual, one of the 419 scam letters that Zinzi sends out, a fictional journal article about animalling, etc. There’s also quite a lot going on in the book that’s separate from the mystery itself, such as Zinzi meeting a couple her boss is scamming, that add dimension to Zinzi and her world. I also found that Beukes’s use of descriptions is fantastic.

Unfortunately, the plot feels clunky. I rode through because the characters are compelling and the writing is a joy to read, but the mystery just falls flat.

***SPOILER ALERT***

I didn’t care for the ending at all. For one thing, can we stop writing books set in the music industry that have the producer be the baddie, please? But also, the attempt to tie together the two different plot strands in some big elaborate conspiracy was just tiresome, and totally unnecessary. The victims (other than Mrs Luditsky, who seems to have been killed only for the cover up anyway) are fringe people that no one noticed missing. As for the twins, Odi had already set them up as being unhinged with the rehab stuff, so he could have easily just covered it up with a “they ran away” story (especially once Song helped out by actually running away – giving that story some precedence). What was the point of getting Zinzi involved at all? and the victims sending out e-mails? Why? That’s not Zinzi’s shavi, so how were they doing it and why were they sending them to her?

***END SPOILER***

I’d say that the book is worth reading, just for the characters, the setting, and the world-building concepts. But as a mystery, I was disappointed.

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