Title: The Shining Girls
Author: Lauren Beukes
No. of Pages: 384
Bottom Line: Mind-blowingly awesome
“Harper Curtis is a killer who stepped out of the past. Kirby Mazrachi is the girl who was never meant to have a future.Kirby is the last shining girl, one of the bright young women, burning with potential, whose lives Harper is destined to snuff out after he stumbles on a House in Depression-era Chicago that opens on to other times.At the urging of the House, Harper inserts himself into the lives of the shining girls, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He’s the ultimate hunter, vanishing into another time after each murder, untraceable – until one of his victims survives.Determined to bring her would-be killer to justice, Kirby joins the Chicago Sun-Times to work with the ex-homicide reporter, Dan Velasquez, who covered her case. Soon Kirby finds herself closing in on the impossible truth…”
Thoughts: Harper Curtis is a down-on-his-heels laborer from the 1930s. Kirby Mazrachi is a lively teen enjoying life in the 1990s. The two, by all accounts, should never meet. However, thanks to the influence of a mysterious House in a rundown Chicago neighborhood, their lives collide in horrific fashion. As Harper steps back to the past, Kirby must confront her fears and trust her instincts if she ever hopes to unravel the mystery of her unknown assailant.
Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls needs to be read carefully. The time travel shifts are sudden and subtle, often indicated by a sentence or two and easily missed. That should not scare off a reader though, as the time travel aspect of this murder mystery is absolutely brilliant. The ramifications and circular nature of the events as they unfold adds a fascinating level of intricacy and horror that propels the novel beyond a traditional murder mystery.
Kirby’s story is particularly compelling. After barely surviving Harper’s truly atrocious attack, it would have been easy for her to hide and protect herself from future harm. Her determination to obtain justice is understandable but still surprising given the level of trauma she underwent. Her inability to take no for an answer serves her well, not only in her continued existence but also as she delves further into her own mysterious case. More importantly, her fortitude allows her to open her mind to the impossible. She’s fiery, fierce, and yet extraordinarily fragile as she works to confront her would-be killer.
In most horror stories, the horror best comes from a reader’s imagination and not from anything stated by an author. The Shining Girls is an exception to that. A reader can imagine Harper’s murders, but they will never be as brutal or disturbing as what Ms. Beukes describes. Not for the faint of heart, the murder scenes serve to highlight how truly depraved Harper is and the viciousness with which one human can attack and mutilate another.
Interestingly enough, as inhuman as Harper appears to be, there remains the question of whether he truly is a vicious, heartless creature. While his murders get progressively more frightening, his initial hesitation hints at someone who was not born to be a serial killer. The natural conclusion at such suggestions is Harper is not the serial killer but rather The House. That is when the story truly becomes awesome.
Speaking of The House, it is easy to ignore it as just another mystical portal. However, as indicated by Harper’s transformation, to fail to consider it as more than the backdrop is to miss a vital piece of the novel. While she make get explicit with her murder scenes, Ms. Beukes wisely leaves the true nature of The House up to the individual reader. The unanswered questions, the suggestions, the descriptions, and the narrative surrounding The House all indicate something insidious, but what that may be is only as horrifying as a reader wants it to be. However, the unknown aspect of this unusual dwelling is significantly more terrifying than anything Harper does to his shining girls.
Everything about The Shining Girls is familiar, and yet the tweaks Ms. Beukes does to a traditional murder mystery format sets the story apart from any previous story. The serial killer aspect is awful, especially as Harper does not exhibit any of the traditional psychological signs of such killers. What he does to those girls is simply horrible, and Ms. Beukes makes sure to leave nothing about those scenes to a reader’s imagination, which somehow makes them even worse. However, the sinister feel of The House, belied by its appearances of wealth and comfort, change the story from disgusting to horrifying. There is definitely more than meets the eye about The House, and Harper is its unfortunate pawn. The time travel aspect of The House and Harper’s crimes is staggeringly fascinating in its implications. This unique and extremely well-written thriller makes for a perfect addition to anyone’s summer reads pile.