A compelling noir/fantasy mash-up, in which the lively but corrupt and decaying city is Johannesburg, South Africa, and the cynical detective is Zinzi December, ex-journalist, ex-convict, with the mark of her dark past literally clinging to her back in the form of a sloth.

Zinzi is one of the animalled, people whose crimes/sins/guilt/next reincarnation/take your pick of theory manifests as a companion animal, empathic but silent, which cannot be separated from them and whose death will suck its human into the Undertow, a deadly shadow which, like the animals themselves, is a great mystery.

The animalled also get some sort of psychic/magical talent. Zinzi's is finding stuff... or people. But, because you don't become animalled unless you've caused someone's death, the animalled are treated with suspicion and disdain, have a hard time getting jobs, and mostly end up in some sort of ghetto where honest work is hard to come by.

Zinzi supplements her finding income by running 419 scams (aka Spanish Prisoner, aka Nigerian spam), and a big part of the story is watching her try to dig herself out of the moral, financial, and emotional hole she's in. She's not always likable, but she and Sloth are definitely interesting.

I love companion animals, I love noir, I love books with strong narrative voices, I love books with well-written snappy dialogue, I love clever interstitial material likes excerpts from magazines and so forth (the hilarious nod to The Golden Compass!), and I love well-drawn depictions of cities, so this novel, which features all those things, was right up my alley.

The second half isn't as strong as the first, and the climax takes the book from noir-dark to somewhat ridiculously grimdark, though the ending is good and not, as I was beginning to worry, rocks fall, everybody dies. I also was much more interested in the Undertow and the animals than in the mystery plot, but the mystery plot takes over the second half of the book. Still, this is a very strong, unusual, interesting novel.

I read a sample of this on Kindle and liked it enough to instantly buy the rest. However, the Kindle version has enough formatting problems that I would recommend getting the hard copy instead. (I assume the hard copy doesn't replicate all the broken lines, etc, that plague the Kindle edition.)

Zoo City

Spoilers lurk below!

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