Zoo City by Lauren Beukes is about Zinzi December, down and out in Johannesburg. Zinzi has a tree sloth for a familiar and makes her living by psychically finding lost items and writing email fishing scams. Most zoos, people with animal familiars, have committed some kind of murder to be “gifted” with their familiar in the first place. Zinzi also just so happens to owe gangsters a lot of money for her ex crack habit.
She doesn’t like tricking people out of their money, so she takes a job to find a teenage pop starlet for the starlet’s controlling manager. Did she run away? Was she kidnapped? Zinzi uses her former contacts as an entertainment writer to follow a trail through drug and alcohol treatment centers, nightclubs, and ex boyfriends. All the while she is negotiating her own problems with gangsters and her lover, who’s missing family shows up in a refugee camp in another country. Eventually she realizes that something far more horrible than she expects is in store the starlet and the starlet's brother.
Zoo City is a very gritty noire urban fantasy set in South Africa, amongst an underclass of magically talented people marked out by their familiars. I liked it because Zinzi’s voice is spare and cynical without managing to lose all of her emotions. The supporting characters, especially their animal familiars, make for a great series of dialogs.
I like the author’s voice, too, which is dry and witty. “Nzambe azan a zamba te,” says a witch Zinzi consults. “God is not in the forest. Maybe he is too busy looking after sports teams or worrying about teenagers having sex before marriage. I think they take up a lot of his time.”
The plot was a little hard to follow in places, but kept you guessing, and kept Zinzi moving, and the end is a really grand guignol horror show that manages to preserve Zinzi’s heart despite staying true to the gritty magical and noirish aspects of the book. I’m a big fan of this book, and will go back and find Lauren Beukes other book, Moxyland.