book reviews by Althea

***** Zoo City – Lauren Beukes

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Zoo City
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this directly after finishing “Moxyland” and my wild enthusiasm for Lauren Beukes is not abating!

The setting is present-day Johannesburg, but in this alternate reality, a couple of decades ago, something strange started happening. Those who were guilty of terrible crimes were suddenly, magically saddled with an animal ‘familiar’ – reminiscent of the burden of the Ancient Mariner’s albatross, but, well, alive. The “animalled” are also unable, it seems, to help liking and feeling affection for their animals. A further motivation to care for the beasts carefully is that their lives are inextricably bound to that of their familiars. They must maintain physical proximity, and if their animal dies (or is killed) that’s it for them as well. Gaining an animal also comes with the benefit of certain strange powers.

Predictably, the animalled are regarded with a complex ambivalence by society – one mirroring our current attitude toward “thugs.” They are shunned and feared as the violent dregs of society – but there’s also the sexy frisson of badassery and scandal attached to their image.

Our protagonist, Zinzi, used to be an upper-middle-class young woman with a promising career in journalism. However, bad choices and drugs led to her current situation: living in a slum, a boyfriend who’s married to someone else, getting blackmailed to work for a criminal scammer due to a debt, and oh yeah, with an animal – a sloth. She’s also gained the power to find lost items, which she uses to make a little extra cash on the side, locating missing items for people.

Zinzi “doesn’t do” missing persons – but when a couple of mercenary agents who seem like bad news rope her in to a case by offering her enough cash to pay off her overwhelming debt, she breaks her own rules. A sleazy record producer’s latest teen starlet has gone missing, and he desperately wants her back to record her next album. But was the singer kidnapped – or did she run away? Does anyone really have her best interests at heart?

The fascinating, vividly gritty setting becomes the backdrop for a non-stop, action-filled and extremely violent mystery plot. Good, good stuff.

Many thanks to Mulholland Books and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.

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