I’m not much of a reader, as my moniker may have indicated to you. Still, I’ve always enjoyed a good book and felt it was time to try my hand at reviewing some, which brings us to my first go of it, The Shining Girls. The book comes from author Lauren Beukes, who previously wrote Moxyland and Zoo City, and delves into the world of time-traveling serial killers. You read that right: time traveling serial killers.
The book opens with a chilling first encounter between Harper and Kirby in July of 1974 when Kirby is just a child. At first read it’s an unsettling encounter, but as the story unfolds and we learn more about the characters and story, this first encounter continues to flash within your brain and grow increasingly disturbing.
As we come to find out, Harper Curtis is a drifter from Great Depression-era Chicago who finds himself in a house that allows him to jump to various points in time. No real rhyme or reason as to how this is accomplished, the House just does what it does. But the only way he can keep doing this, is if he finds the “shining girls”—girls who show a great deal of potential that he stalks over the course of many years, sometimes decades—and eventually kills them. That is until he tries to kill Kirby Mazrachi…and fails…leading her to turn the tables and begin hunting the hunter.
The basic description of a time-traveling serial killer may sound absurd to you, understandably, but I can assure you it is not. Beukes does a remarkable job of setting this fictional tale in a very realistic setting. You know it’s not something that could happen in real life, but if it could, this is how it might go down. Great attention to detail is paid to each year that Harper visits as he hunts down his shining girls, even making sure to touch on the culture shock of this character’s first visit to more modern times from 1932. The author has most definitely done a great deal of research to ensure that even the most basic of conversations feel more set in reality, and that’s always greatly appreciated.
Beukes jumps from one year to the next, back and forth, character to character, and yet I never felt lost as a reader. The transitions were smooth as can be, and, for the most part, I always felt like I knew what was going on.
The characters are rich and well-developed. Kirby is about as eccentric as characters come, and in the best possible way, while Harper is hauntingly evil. His acts, his methods, his habits, his personality, and his very existence will undoubtedly turn your stomach in ways it’s not used to, and that goes a long way in latching your attention on Kirby’s determined search to find him. Dan is just your average guy, but the interactions and chemistry between he and Kirby as two different generations collide are great; the playful banter, the frustrations, and the inevitable attraction all play well into crafting the story as a whole. And those are just the main characters—there’s also a collection of smaller characters, all with unique personalities and tendencies that impress.
The Shining Girls is not a pleasant book…not at all. Quite the contrary, in fact. The Shining Girls is a brutal book about an evil man doing evil things across many decades just to appease a mysterious house. But it’s written so well that it’s difficult to put down; instead of constant uncomfortable subject matter, the story jumps around and shifts tones enough to keep things entertaining while still moving forward at a good pace. And the character of Kirby is a force, fascinating to read and impossible to dislike, which perfectly offsets the despicable unpleasantness of Harper.
While I may not be a big reader, I know a good story and this is certainly one of them. If you’re seeking something new and unique and different than you’ve read before, be sure to check it out. The book has been compared to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which makes sense, but it had more personality, more sarcastic humor, and, well…time travel! Much more time travel than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, that’s undeniable.
I wasn’t aware of Lauren Beukes and her books before, but she’s caught my attention now and I’m excited to dive into her other works, both past and future, very soon.