Zoo City

Lauren Beukes
Zoo City Cover

Zoo City


Noir mystery meets urban fantasy. It's easy to identify people with a criminal past in the world Lauren Beukes creates. They are the ones with animal familiars they must keep nearby at all times. The familiars are a responsibility and a bit of a burden but come with a twist: the animalled also have a magical skill. Zinzi uses her skill to find lost things. It brings her a small income that makes life in a rundown area of Johannesburg marginally easier.

Though she doesn't usually track missing people, Zinzi is compelled to take a new job looking for an upcoming young music star. The search brings her, along with her sloth familiar, through various parts of Johannesburg primarily the music scene, and connects her with people from her former life, pre-animal. As she pursues the case, we learn, through excerpts from articles and interviews, about the phenomenon of the animalled and about some of the key players in Zinzi's missing person case. We also learn more about Zinzi's personal history and how she came to be animalled.

The story takes place in contemporary South Africa and the mystery of the missing girl overlays modern regional politics, the music scene, and daily life for the poor and dispossessed. The phenomenon of the animalled is so deftly incorporated into all aspects of the world it becomes almost mundane, though it doesn't cease to be fascinating. In true noir style, Zinzi digs deeper into the unpleasant often hidden aspects of society until we come to a climax that shocks even her jaded outlook.