The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes

Edition: Ebook/eARC (Kindle)

Where I got it: Review copy from NetGalley (many thanks!)

Publisher: Harper

Published: April 2013

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The girl who wouldn’t die, hunting a killer who shouldn’t exist…

1930’s America: Lee Curtis Harper is a delusional, violent drifter who stumbles on a house that opens onto other times.

Driven by visions, he begins a killing spree over the next 60 years, using an undetectable MO and leaving anachronistic clues on his victims’ bodies.

But when one of his intended ‘shining girls’, Kirby Mazrachi, survives a brutal stabbing, she becomes determined to unravel the mystery behind her would-be killer. While the authorities are trying to discredit her, Kirby is getting closer to the truth, as Harper returns again and again…

Before I’d even finished reading the review copy I got on NetGalley, I knew I had to buy this book. In fact, by the time I was even halfway through, I’d already done so. Let that tell you whatever wonderful things it will. 

This is my first encounter with Lauren Beukes’ work, though at this point I have Moxyland waiting on my Kindle and will probably go back for more before too long. She is one of Those Authors of 2013 who, for me, are breathing wonderful new life into genre fiction. I don’t read as much horror as I do fantasy these days, but I expect to be thoroughly creeped out when I do – because why bother, otherwise? Thankfully Beukes delivers the chills here, and no doubt about it. 

Starting out in 1930s Chicago, I was instantly taken with the setting. I enjoy a good period setting, and the 30s era is especially interesting to me, style-wise. That said, it quickly becomes the characters who steal the show, and even the minor players provide plenty to be curious about – though they never outshine (pun intended) the main attractions.

Harper Curtis is a murderer and a psychopath, and when he discovers a house that allows him to visit other eras in time, it isn’t sight-seeing he’s got on his mind. His killing spree is going well, so to speak, until one of his victims survives his attack. From there, things begin to unravel. Harper is responsible for all of those chills I mentioned, and well he should be. Any story about a serial killer where the killer him (or her) self fails to affect or fascinate the reader is not a good serial killer story. Luckily, Harper is an example of the good kind. So to speak. By turns charming and menacing as he hunts down his ‘shining girls’ from one era to another and back again, he got me hooked on this story even before Kirby came along to throw a wrench in the gears.

If Harper got me hooked at the start, it was for Kirby that I was eager to get to the finish and find out how it all ended. Harper’s attack was brutal, and Beukes doesn’t flinch away from that aspect in the description. The result, when Kirby eventually recovers, is that she sets herself on an obsessive quest to find this killer whom even the police have nothing on. As Harper’s murderous quest begins to fall apart following her unintended survival, Kirby’s obsession with finding him grows, until it seems her life is coming apart right alongside his as their missions consume them. Whether this means she’s refusing to be victimised, or she’s falling into an inevitable (psychological) Victim Trap, is a question that I’m still chewing over even now that I’ve finished the book. (I like that, for the record. Stories that stay with you afterward are Good Stories.)

The time-jumping, nonlinear telling of two different stories is a method that’s tricky to pull off. Do it right, and you hook the reader with a clever structure. Get it wrong, and you lose them just as easily in a tangled mess where they’ll start to question the point of keeping on. Thankfully, Beukes does it right. It was still a little tricky to keep the progression straight in my head, but this was perhaps inevitable. However, the effort was worth it and then some. If the first half of the book was a slow-burn building up of Harper’s quest and its unraveling post-Kirby, then the second half was a lit fuse. You know there’s an explosion coming, and it’s too late to go back…

The tension in the build-up to the confrontation between our protagonists was the real success of this book. Kirby simply refuses to give up, though she’s given several chances and some good reasons to do so (looking at you, Love Interest Dan). Chief of which is that, duh, Harper wants her dead more than ever before. With all of this in mind, the finale was something electric. Another aspect that’s staying with me, days later …

Buy this book, if you haven’t. It’s that simple. Buy it, read it, and I bet you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. Even if this isn’t your cup of tea, try another of Lauren Beukes’ books. I fully intend to, as I said before, because I’ve got a very good feeling about her now.

3 thoughts on “The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes

  1. I love Lauren Beukes, I read her Zoo City back when it came out and then snapped up a copy of Moxyland (they’re both really good, but ZOo City is better, in my opinion)

    Serial killer horror/thriller? Wow, not what I expected from Beukes, what a wonderful surprise! This is one I’m gonna have to get a copy of!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *