Wild life

It’s sci-fi, or maybe an alternate-universe urban supernatural mystery: South African novelist Lauren Beuke’s second book, Zoo City, is set in a Johannesburg that is segregated by money, not race, and by whether or not one has an Animal. That’s Animal with a capital “A,” because a strange change has saddled some people—mostly criminals, lowlifes and those who are guilty of something, even if they can’t name it—with animal familiars, who also seem to bestow some sort of magical gift. The protagonist, Zinzi, is a former reporter and recovering drug addict who ended up with a Sloth on her back and the ability to find lost things, which is how she makes her living. She’s hired by a music producer-slash-impresario to find the missing distaff half of a brother and sister teen-pop act, and it goes downhill from there. The real energy comes from Beuke’s crisp and engaging style, which is well-matched with the take-no-prisoners smartass attitude of her heroine.