Lauren Beukes

Zoo City

'Down these mean streets a woman with a magic animal must go. You'll want to go there too. Lauren Beukes is Jeff Noon crossed with Raymond Chandler. What's real about the spirit of a place, in this case South Africa, previously invisible, is externalised, via magic, into features, events. Kind of genius that that's the plot too. I loved it, it's going to be huge.'

– Paul Cornell

'In Zoo City we have an unfamiliar land full of familiars, a broken Johannesburg of the near-future peopled with damaged wonders. If our words are bullets, Lauren Beukes is a marksman in a world of drunken machine-gunners, firing her ideas and images into us with a sly and deadly accuracy, wasting nothing, never missing. I'll follow her career as long as she's willing to write and I'm able to read.'

– Bill Willingham, creator of Fables

'While Zoo City still has an edge, it's more lyrical than Moxyland. And it has magic. Urban fantasy, for one of the most interesting definitions of the term… Moxyland was excellent. Zoo City is better.'

– Gill Polack

'A pacey, hard-edged affair that is hard to put down once it's sunk its claws into you. Zoo City's a dark novel with many a silver lining. This is intelligent and witty urban writing for the 21st century: wildly entertaining, yet richly nuanced.'

– Women 24

By the same author




In Zoo City, it's impolite to ask.

Morning light the sulphur colour of the mine dumps seeps across Johannesburg's skyline and sears through my window. My own personal bat signal. Or a reminder that I really need to get curtains.

Shielding my eyes – morning has broken and there's no picking up the pieces – I yank back the sheet and peel out of bed. Benoit doesn't so much as stir, with only his calloused feet sticking out from under the duvet like knots of driftwood. Feet like that, they tell a story. They say he walked all the way from Kinshasa with his Mongoose strapped to his chest.

The Mongoose in question is curled up like a furry comma on my laptop, the glow of the LED throbbing under his nose. Like he doesn't know that my computer is out of bounds. Let's just say I'm precious about my work. Let's just say it's not entirely legal.

I take hold of the laptop on either side and gently tilt it over the edge of my desk. At thirty degrees, the Mongoose starts sliding down the front of the laptop. He wakes with a start, tiki tavi claws scrabbling for purchase. As he starts to fall, he contorts in the air and manages to land feet first. Hunching his stripy shoulders, he hisses at me, teeth bared. I hiss back. The Mongoose realises he has urgent flea bites to attend to.

Leaving the Mongoose to scrolf at its flank, I duck under one of the loops of rope hanging from the ceiling, the closest I can get to providing authentic Amazon jungle vines, and pad over the rotten linoleum to the cupboard. Calling it a cupboard is a tad optimistic, like calling this dank room with its precariously canted floor and intermittent plumbing an apartment is optimistic. The cupboard is not much more than an open box with a piece of fabric pinned across it to keep the dust off my clothes – and Sloth, of course. As I pull back the gaudy sunflower print, Sloth blinks up at me sleepily from his roost, like a misshapen fur coat between the wire hangers. He's not good at mornings.

There's a mossy reek that clings to his fur and his claws, but it's earthy and clean compared to the choke of stewing garbage and black mould floating up the stairwell. Elysium Heights was condemned years ago.

I reach past him to pull out a vintage navy dress with a white collar, match it up with jeans and slops, and finish off with a lime green scarf over the little dreadlock twists that conveniently hide the mangled wreckage of my left ear – let's call it Grace Kelly does Sailor Moon. This is not so much a comment on my style as a comment on my budget. I was always more of an outrageously expensive indie boutique kinda girl. But that was FL. Former Life.

'Come on, buddy,' I say to Sloth. 'Don't want to keep the clients waiting.' Sloth gives a sharp sneeze of disapproval and extends his long downy arms. He clambers onto my back, fussing and shifting before he finally settles. I used to get impatient. But this has become an old routine for the pair of us.

It's because I haven't had my caffeine fix yet that it takes a little while for the repetitive skritching sound to penetrate – the Mongoose is pawing at the front door with a single-minded devotion.

I oblige, shunting back the double deadbolt and clicking open the padlock which is engraved with magic, supposedly designed to keep out those with a shavi for slipping through locked doors. At the first crack, the Mongoose nudges out between my ankles and trots down the passage towards the communal litter tray. It's easy to find. It's the smelliest place in the building.

'You should really get a cat-flap.' Benoit is awake at last, propped up on one elbow, squinting at me from under the shade of his fingers, because the glare bouncing off Ponte Tower has shifted across to his side of the bed.

'Why?' I say, propping the door open with my foot for the Mongoose's imminent return. 'You moving in?'

'Is that an invitation?'

'Don't get comfortable is all I'm saying.'

'Ah, but is that all you're saying?'

'And don't get smart either.'

'Don't worry, cherie na ngayi. Your bed is far too lumpy to get comfortable.' Benoit stretches lazily, revealing the mapwork of scars over his shoulders, the plasticky burnt skin that runs down his throat and his chest. He only ever calls me 'my love' in Lingala, which makes it easier to disregard. 'You making breakfast?'

'Deliveries,' I shrug.

'Anything interesting today?' He loves hearing about the things people lose.

'Set of keys. The widow ring.'

'Ah, yes. The crazy lady.'

'Mrs Luditsky.'

'That's right,' Benoit says, and repeats himself: 'Crazy lady.'

'Hustle, my friend. I have to get going.'

Benoit pulls a face. 'It's so early.'

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