Zinzi December is one of the Animalled: people who are guilty of something and who, as a consequence, have been bestowed with an animal, a consequence no-one can really explain. The animals just turn up. A sloth in Zinzi's case. With the sloth came the gift of being able to find lost things and so Zinzi is hired by music producer Odi Huron to find one half of his latest project, a teen-pop duo.
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes is, at heart, a detective story and a fairly hard-boiled one. Zinzi is not an immediately likeable hero, she works as a 419 scammer and she certainly has no illusions about her work. But she grows on you, as does the sloth. I didn't know anything about the book when I read it, didn't even read the blurb on the back (e-book...) and that made it that much more awesome. It took me a moment to understand that, yes, Zinzi has an actual, living sloth in her closet and why it is there.
I'm always happy to discover books that are not set in the US or the UK. Along with a thrilling story, you get to explore a whole new place. Zoo City takes place in Johannesburg, a city I knew little about, I did some research after reading the book. I would have wished for a glossary of all the Afrikaans words and those in some of the African languages spoken in South Africa. But it's fairly easy to take a good guess at what's meant.
The theme of animals as a sort of familiar has something of Pullman's Golden Compass and Beuken mentions the book in a fake movie review featured in Zoo City. But being animalled is nothing like the connection people have to their animals in Pullman's world, it's much, much darker. It's never really explained how being Animalled works, but that's part of the appeal. There's such a thing as too much detail. I laughed out loud when the first human to be Animalled was mentioned; an Afghan warlord with a penguin. Who wore custom-made body armour.
Another book from the Humble Bundle e-book bundle and I think my favourite of all of them so far.