Title: The Shining Girls
Author: Lauren Beukes
Publisher: Mulholland Books, 2013
THE BOOK: Harper Curtis is a time traveling serial killer. How about that for a one-sentence pitch? Harper discovers purely by chance a key to a very creepy house whose doors open on different times. The catch is that the house wants Harper to find and kill certain girls — girls that shine. He finds them when they are young girls and shining with potential, takes a memento from them and then tells them he’ll be back to kill them later, when it’s their time. He hunts them down as young women, kills them brutally, and leaves a memento from a different shining girl on their corpses. Kirby Mazrachi was one of Harper’s shining girls, but she gets away and vows to find him. But how do you find a man who can move through time? She enlists the help of journalist and turns the hunter into the hunted.
MY TAKE: I have loved everything Beukes has written. I think she has an amazing talent, writing accessible but lovely prose and all her novels have been hugely inventive. The character of Kirby is the biggest draw for me. She’s funny and likeable, and despite her horrific experience she is determined to hunt down the man who tried to kill her. But Harper is a truly great creation as well. So effiing creepy and evil and driven by his dark impulses. The house might have created Harper, or simply fed his desires for violence. For me, one of the great things is that Beukes doesn’t try and explain everything. Why is the house evil? What causes the time travel? Why does Harper need to collect the mementos? She just lays out the story and you either go along with it or you don’t. For me, an added bonus was the Chicago setting. Beukes obviously did her homework as all the eras and as someone who lived in Chicago in the 1990s the feel of the city is spot on.
SF/Fantasy: Time travel is usually classed as a SF trope, but when there is no explanation given for the mechanics of the phenomenon, it can just as easily be seen as fantasy. The way it is done here is through the fascinating mechanism of the house, where the doors open up to the same street, but in various eras from the 1930s through the 1990s.
Horror: The very ambiguity of the nature of the house and its purpose give this a horror tang. There is a dark menace to everything in that house, and whether Harper is naturally a psychopathic killer or the house drives him to kill is left to the reader’s interpretation. There’ enough gore in the descriptions of the killings to keep any horror fan reading.
Thriller: The heart of the book becomes the cat and mouse of Harper and Kirby. The killings are violent and scary and the pacing is intense. Serial killers are thriller staples, but Beukes brought something new to the trope. Readers will root for Kirby and be anxious for her as she tries to unravel the mystery of this unique killer.
RATING: 8/10 Excellent
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