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Book Talk: South Africa's Beukes revisits America in 'Broken Monsters'

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's Lauren Beukes returns to urban America and the hunt for a serial killer in her new novel, "Broken Monsters".

Her previous best-seller, "The Shining Girls", followed a time-traveling drifter from the Depression era who stalked women in Chicago as he jumped from decade to decade.

In "Broken Monsters", a killer with a macabre sense of 'art' who puts together part-human, part-animal bodies terrorizes Detroit, a city in the throes of post-industrial decay.

The novel's cast of characters includes a stressed-out female detective, her rebellious teenage daughter and a blogger on the prowl for a career-boosting scoop.

Beukes spoke to Reuters by phone from her Cape Town base about her work and future plans.

Q: It is still relatively rare for a novelist from Africa to set his work outside of the continent, but, of course, many non-Africans have used this region as their backdrop. Do you think you are part of a new trend of African writers?

A: Yes, I think there are other writers like Sarah Lotz who are doing this. I don't see why African writers should be restricted, and I think the world is ours to play with.

Q: Why the specific settings of Detroit and Chicago?

A: Because it's my sneaky way of writing about Johannesburg. They are stand-ins for Johannesburg.

Q: How so?

A: Well, Chicago is a shining city, which has terrible corruption and crime rates. So a shining city with segregation and crime and corruption and all the political themes that I'm interested in but on a much broader canvas. And then Detroit is my way of writing about (the Johannesburg inner-city district of) Hillbrow again, which, of course, is the setting for my novel "Zoo City". It's a place that people look at from the outside and judge as a ruined blight upon our society and a symbol of everything that has gone wrong with this country and a warning of where we might be heading. And, of course, both Hillbrow and Detroit are those things, and they have massive problems, and there are boarded up buildings, and there is desperate poverty. But what I'm interested in is the people who live there and the stories and the life and the spark that is in these places.

Q: America has a never-ending fascination with serial killers, apparent in the popularity of TV shows such as "Criminal Minds" and "Dexter". But you seem to have breathed new literary life into the genre. Do you have more serial killers up your sleeve?

A: I might be done with serial killers. I'm probably not done with murder. But I've spent a lot of time trying to write very real serial killers who are not glamorous or cool but loathsome and violent and awful, the way serial killers really are. And writing from that perspective is fairly hideous. So I don't know if I would readily go back there. I am pitching a horror comic, but that is just going to be like high camp. But also scary.

Q: Your first two novels were set in South Africa. Any plans to come back home with your writing?

A: Oh, definitely. One of the characters in the horror comic that I'm pitching is South African. And two out of the four pitches that I just sent to my editor are set in South Africa. I'd love to do a sequel to "Zoo City", for example.

Q: MRC and Leonardo DiCaprio's production company Appian Way have bought the TV rights to "The Shining Girls". Has anyone expressed interest in bringing "Broken Monsters" to life on the screen, big or small?

A: My film agent is shopping it around at the moment, and there is quite a lot of interest.

(Editing by Ayla Jean Yackley and Crispian Balmer)

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