Thursday, 5 May 2011

'Zoo City' - Lauren Beukes

The blurb for Zoo City is rather sparse with information and at first I decided to skip it altogether. Luckily, I heard someone saying that it was a crossover between urban fantasy and crime which had also been nominated for the Arthur C Clarke Award. After I bought it, Zoo City won the 25th Arthur C Clarke award so I was feeling quite confident it would be worth reading.

Zinzi December is a women who had everything, but lost it all. She is a survivor, drugs and alcohol did not bring her down and neither did prison. In Zoo City only the strong will survive and Zinzi is a hard woman. Her drug addiction left her in debt to gangsters so she needs every job she can get. She is willing to do whatever it takes to survive even if that means straying outside the boundaries of the law. This is what you do if you live in Zoo City. Before everything went wrong Zinzi was a freelance journalist, but nowadays the only writing she does is for a gang of email scammers. Scamming retired people of their savings is not something she is proud of, but the money has to come from somewhere.

She has left notes here and there advertising her ability to find lost things. When meeting someone Zinzi will see any item that a person has lost with threads leading her to the lost item. Like a cloud of tentacles, but with a hidden treasure at the end. Zinzi has an animal companion, Sloth, and they have an empathic connection. When a missing item is in a difficult to reach place it is good to have a little friend that can crawl into places you cannot.

It all starts with an old woman having lost her ring and she hires Zinzi to recover it. Zinzi finds the ring, but the old woman is brutally murdered and Zinzi has to spend hours at the police station explaining why she has the old woman's ring, her money and why her prints were found in the flat.
Some time later two strange characters approach her, one is a very dapper man with a Maltese, and the other a tall lady with a Stork strapped to her back. The strange couple has a jobb offer for Zinzi, a music producer has discovered two very talented twins, but one of them has gone missing. Finding missing people is not something that she normally does, but there is a lot of money at stake and the chance to do some good so she accepts.

Zinzi is a very likeable character, she is a strong woman who speaks her mind and does not save her words. There are some pretty graphic metaphors which really suit her character and the world that Lauren Beukes has built. It must be mentioned what a kick ass job she has done with her world building, it feels current with the all technical references that she uses, but also bizarre and frightening.

I have not really mentioned much about why the book is called Zoo City and why Zinzi has a Sloth as a companion and I wont. Lauren Beukes does a much better job of providing context for her story than what I could ever do. We are throughout the book slowly being drip fed information about the events that changed the world. Between chapters she interleaves information in the form of movie reviews and paper abstracts which works really well.

It's a dark story, but it is never overbearing and  Zinzi has a sharp tongue which helps to lighten the mood at times. I enjoyed reading this book, but at times I felt the pace of the plot was uneven, especially at the end where a lot of things happened. The crime investigation part of the book works, but feels week at times as it is hard to follow how she reaches certain conclusions. These are both minor issues in an otherwise good book and my biggest problem with Zoo City was all the foreign words that certainly makes the book more realistic, but leaves non-South Africans baffled.

Any fan of urban fantasy will certainly like this book and it certainly made me wish I had a Sloth.

Verdict: read

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