After recently enjoying Beukes' other novel, Moxyland, I decided to pick this one up. Wow. It's very different, but just as wonderful, maybe even more so.
Set in a dystopian-fantasy version of South Africa where traditional African culture and magic mingle with modern technology, the story follows Zinzi December, ex-con turned small-time private eye. You see, part of what makes this world different is in addition to jail time, violent criminals are "animalled" -- a physical manifestion of their guilt becomes their companion, along with some type of magical power. Pretty fair trade off, I think, though it kind of sucks that having an animal is a pretty obvious stigma and "zoos" are seriously disadvantaged in society. Zinzi's animal is a sloth, and her power is the ability to find lost things, tracing intangible threads from their owners. Unfortunately, finding the occasional set of keys for old ladies isn't enough to pay off her massive drug debt (oh yeah, she also used to be a junkie), so she's been roped into writing 419 scams for some shady folks. Until she gets roped into solving a missing persons case for some even shadier folks.
At its core, this is really a pretty simple mystery story - urban fantasy with some noir elements - but it's executed brilliantly. There are tons of quotable passages and lots of clever quips from Zinzi, who is a totally kick-ass heroine. I wish Beukes had elaborated on some parts, though, especially Zinzi's backstory: I wanted to hear more about how she got her brother killed (this isn't really a spoiler, it's mentioned quite early in the book), her Former Life as a journalist, and her time in jail. I would have also liked some clarification on Hell's Undertow. Maybe this is a book that actually needs a sequel?
Anyway, I hear it's been optioned for a film, so if you're one of those people that likes to read the book first, get on it.
Note on the Kindle version: This had some formatting issues, mostly random line breaks and the occasional lack of space between two words. It didn't affect readability or my enjoyment of the book, but did jar me from the text a few times. YMMV.