The Monster's Daughterby Michelle Pretorius (Website, Facebook, Twitter)
Published by Melville House on July 19, 2016
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Crime, Historical, Mystery, Thriller
Source: TLC Book Tours
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I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Somewhere on the South African veldt, 1901: At the height of the Boer War, a doctor at a British concentration camp conducts a series of grim experiments on Boer prisoners. His work ends in chaos, but two children survive: a boy named Benjamin, and a girl named Tessa.
One hundred years later, a disgraced young police constable is reassigned to the sleepy South African town of Unie, where she makes a terrifying discovery: the body of a young woman, burned beyond recognition.
The crime soon leads her into her country's violent past a past that includes her father, a high-ranking police official under the apartheid regime, and the children left behind in that long ago concentration camp.
Michelle Pretorius's epic debut weaves present and past together into a hugely suspenseful, masterfully plotted thriller that calls to mind Lauren Beukes's The Shining Girls and Tana French's The Secret Place. With an explosive conclusion, it marks the emergence of a thrilling new writer.
The Monster’s Daughter was very haunting, beautiful, and I really enjoyed the journey. There’s really three genres going on in this book; it wasn’t just your run of the mill murder mystery. There’s a mystery/thriller with main character Alet and her investigation into the murder of a woman in small town Unie, and there’s a historical fiction part with the incorporation of South African history from the early 1900s until present day, which is wrapped up with a speculative fiction or science fiction story of two people who were born of genetic experiments in the early 19th century. The Monster’s Daughter follows Alet’s investigation in December 2010 as it alternates with chapters starting in 1901, shortly before the babies are born, leading up until the timelines converge in a very satisfying way.
Carrying Out Her Punishment–In More Ways Than One…
Alet was kicked out of her elite unit police squad training when her affair with an instructor was discovered, and although her highly respected and decorated police Colonel father pulled some strings, the only position he could get for her was as a cop in small town Unie. Here, she’s finding that the locals don’t want to cooperate with the police, and when a woman’s body is found badly burned, she has to fight tooth and nail just to be included in the investigation. With both locals and fellow police officers that she can’t trust or hate her, Alet has an enormous uphill battle to climb as she tracks down clues and delves into the murder victim’s life. And that leads to a town full of corruption, people in power willing to kill to protect themselves, and locals who are still scared of anyone with power who’s skin color is different than their own. While Alet is stubborn and is prone to do what she wants even when she’s been ordered to stay away or it’s best to leave things alone, she’s smart and driven to do what is right for those who can’t help themselves. Her sense of right and wrong is dead center, even though she isn’t much for following the rules that this still unequal country has set to follow.
Different From Other People, They Try To Make Their Way…
In the early 1900s, Tessa Morgan knows that she is different from the other children. Seeming to grow at a slower rate than people, she’s sheltered by her adopted white father Corporal Andrew Morgan and black mother Sara–who also happened to steal her away from the scientist who’d created her. She never knew a life that wasn’t on the verge of chaos, one where they didn’t have to pick up and leave because their family was different, because they had to pretend that her mother was just the hired help. And then Tessa encounters another child that has the same silvery blue eyes and platinum blond hair as her, along with their enhanced features, and she doesn’t feel so alone anymore. Benjamin de Beer thinks that Tessa is his gift from God, and that she’s his reward for all the suffering that he’s had to live through. Their relationship begins quite nicely and lasts up until he’s graduating from the armed forces, but when it starts to turn sour, Ben isn’t sure what he’s done wrong. He vows to win Tessa back, at any cost. Tessa is strong-willed, wholehearted believing that all people are equal, her outspokenness against Apartheid gets her unwanted attention, and it causes much trouble for her colored brother Jacob throughout the years. Ben grows into a different kind of strength, and he definitely learns to use his power for his own gain and those of his people while keeping his main objective in mind.
Such a Vivid Atmosphere Full of Oppression…
The oppressive heat and racial tensions, in both the past and present, make for a book that feels like it’s balancing on a tight rope a lot of the time. Michelle Pretorius does an excellent job portraying the hopelessness, the anger, and the tension that Apartheid has had on South African citizens for decades. The settings really come to life with all of the senses, and I’ve never known anything other than Midwest summer heat or Phoenix temperatures from when I was a child, so the climate really shines through as almost another character in The Monster’s Daughter. From the gritty cityscapes of Johannesburg to the more rural and dusty, yet just as unfriendly Unie and the like, I had no problem visualizing South Africa even though I’d never been there.
When Past Meets Present, Worlds Collide…
Part of what I really loved about The Monster’s Daughter was the anticipation of when the timelines would finally merge, and more importantly, what would happen when the main players finally met each other. I won’t spoil how far into the book you have to read to get to this point, but this collision of past and present was explosive, and Alet’s perspective on the crime as well as her entire past is changed irrevocably.
I give The Monster’s Daughter a 4.5 out of five. While I found it a bit difficult to get into at first with the sprinklings of South African slang and dialect, I was usually able to figure out what was meant since the word was close to the English word or I could derive the meaning from the sentence. However, this did pull me out of the book. Even though I’m not all that familiar with South African history, Michelle Pretorius’ careful research and own experience growing up in South Africa definitely made this very vivid and realistic. The realities of Apartheid era South Africa throughout the twentieth century were deftly portrayed through Tessa and Ben’s characters, along with the struggles of their acquaintances. I truly couldn’t put this book down once the story really got going about 20% in, and the way that the two timelines wove together smoothly was very interesting. Alet is definitely a sympathetic character that I cared for, along with her partner Johannes Mathebe, Tessa, and even Alet’s ex-boyfriend. The Monster’s Daughter is a great blend of mystery, historical fiction, and speculative fiction that just plain works.
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About Michelle Pretorius
Born and raised in South Africa, Michelle received a B.A. at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein. She has lived in London, New York, and the Midwest and holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago. She is currently a doctoral student in creative writing at Ohio University. Her writing has appeared in LitHub, The Copperfield Review, Wordriot, and others. Her first novel, The Monster’s Daughter, which Library Journal calls “impressive and well-executed,” is published by Melville House and Audible.
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