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Book Review

Book Cover

The Shining Girls


Author: Lauren Beukes
Publisher: Harper Collins
RRP: £7.99, US $16.00
ISBN: 978 0 00 746458 6
Publication Date: 29 August 2013

Chicago 1931 and Harper Curtis is on the run following an incident when his psychopathic tendencies were given full reign, hunted by local townsfolk Curtis finds himself drawn to a particular house, the house calls to him, the house needs him. Chicago 1992 and Kirby survives an attack by a vicious killer. Unable to believe that this is a random act, she gets a job as an intern with a local paper, where the sports writer used to cover violent crimes, before he burnt out. Chicago 1931 and Harper Curtis is shown a whole new universe to play with, by just thinking he can enter the house in one year and leave it in another, the perfect alibi for a serial killer...

The Shining Girls is the new thriller from South African Lauren Beukes, winner of the 2011 Arthur C. Clarke Award for her novel Zoo City.

Time travel is not a new concept and the last book which really pulled it off, outside of science fiction was The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. The same conceit is used in both books, in the fact that the logic of the time travel is never really explained to the reader’s satisfaction, it just is. As such you have to except it as a given in the novel.

It’s an intriguing thought, that if you could move across time, how anyone would attribute your crimes to a serial killer is the question posed by the novel. Here Harper makes a fatal by taking anachronistic objects from one victim only to plant them on the next victim in another time zone, baseball cards before the player even played, lighters which look new, but are antiques.

The real problem with the book was always going to be how Beukes avoided making the book just a list of killings, with a conveniently easy uncovering at the close. Here, the author has spent time painting little vignettes of the victims, enough so that you feel you know something about them and can identify with the latest murder victim.

She further ties them to Kirby, usually via their children, which makes Harper feel more out of time than the people he kills. This, in the end, is the master stroke of the book. You actually feel you know the victims, which is actually more horrific as you pretty much know that they are about to be disembowelled. Worse still Harper visits them as children to hand over his trinkets, always promising to return and we all know what that means.

Whilst Harper is a strong and memorable character, Beukes has made sure that Kirby also is equally strong. I’m not sure that I can say her characterisation was real, only because thankfully I have never been attacked and left for dead by Harper. She is damaged, but determined to prove that a single male killer is stalking all the shining girls. Beukes has said in the past that she is interested in portraying female characters taking control over their own lives and certainly, against the odds, Kirby does just this.

Another aspect of the book that has to be just taken without explanation is the reason for the killings. In a strange way Harper is a victim of the house which demands the death of the shining girls, women of potential, without any way of knowing if it is feeding the house in some way. The end of the story wraps back on itself, yet this still does not explain the motivation of the house.

None of this really matters, in life so much stuff just happens and you have to approach the story in this way, it is what it is, if you want to be spoon fed the plot threads then you’re probably looking at the wrong book.

In the end all I can say that the book was enthralling, the characterisations were perfect and the time travel aspects of the narrative never got in the way. Buy it, love it, and feel a more than little creeped out.


Charles Packer

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