A Sloth. Addicts. Sympathy Scams. Magic. Muti. Murder. A Mongoose. A Missing Person.
In Zoo City, Lauren Beukes puts a fresh spin on a familiar plot: the down on his/her luck character that becomes caught up in a mystery. This supernatural mystery—technically fantasy—won the 2011 Clarke Award and was nominated for the 2010 British Science Fiction Association Award. Although some of the content is dark, even disturbing, the novel is strangely enjoyable. Zinzi December, the main character and narrator, is a recovering drug addict with moxie. She is accompanied by a sloth, who is more like a faithful dog than a cute critter. As a reader, I cared about her, and I was quickly drawn into the plot.
Briefly, the story takes place in a fictionalized version of South Africa. Zinzi lives in Zoo City, a ghetto-like area primarily occupied by “the zooed,” people who have committed crimes and are now accompanied by an animal. Zinzi tries to make a more or less honest living using her magical ability to help people find lost objects. She also is involved with Internet scams in order to pay back her drug debt. Her boyfriend, whose zoo is a mongoose, purportedly lost his wife and children in the Congo genocide. After the murder of one of Zinzi’s lost object clients, Zinzi is approached by two strangers who want her to help them with a mysterious job, which turns out to be finding a missing teenage pop star. Since finding lost people is not one of Zinzi’s talents, she ends up drawing on some of the connections from her past. As the story draws to its conclusion, Zinzi and her sloth find something even darker than even they are used to.
What can I say other than that Zoo City is a “good read”? My guess is that readers who enjoy books like those in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Series or appreciate good, gritty mysteries will also enjoy Zoo City. I now want to read more by Beukes.