THE SHINING GIRLS by Lauren Beukes, Book Review

The Shining Girls Lauren BeukesThe Shining Girls Synopsis


“The future is not as loud as war, but it is relentless. It has a terrible fury all its own.” 

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 . . .

The Shining Girls is a masterful twist on the serial killer tale: a violent quantum leap featuring a memorable and appealing heroine in pursuit of a deadly criminal.  (Amazon)

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I am quite partial to a bit of time travel in my fiction and the concept of a time travelling serial killer caught my attention, so when the Crime Writer’s Association included Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls on their shortlist for the 2013 Goldsboro Gold Dagger recently alongside another title I really enjoyed, Dead Lions by Mick Herron, I decided to take the plunge.

The first thing I must point out is that this novel is not for those with weak stomachs. There is a real viciousness to the murders that feature in this novel. Harper Curtis is the type of serial killer that kills to satisfy his urges as opposed to your ‘mercy killer’ type of character. In keeping with this Beukes’ descriptions of the killer’s actions are extremely graphic and emotive.

I did appreciate Beukes use of the concept of the girls that shone – women who were strong-willed and breaking new ground in society. Her killer’s (and The House’) need to extinguish their shine, analogous to forces in society that tear down those they are threatened by to make themselves and the small-minded and ignorant in society, and by extension those in power, feel more secure.

The fever peaks and something howls through him, full of contempt and wrath and fire. He sees the faces of the shining girls and knows they must die. The screaming inside his head. Kill her. Stop her.

The time travelling concept was very interesting but its utilisation felt somewhat contrived and gratuitous in places. I know some will argue that all fiction involving time travel is contrived, and while I’d technically agree I do however think there are degrees to which fictional frameworks can substantiated.

For me what The Shining Girls was lacking was a more meaty back story or framework to support the time travelling. For my inquiring mind the author leaves so many questions unanswered. I can however appreciate that through the device of time travel the author sought to highlight the sad fact that throughout history elements within society have on a recurring basis acted to snuff out, or crush individualism and marginalised those that speak out against the status quo.

The many narrative viewpoints and time periods in this novel were all clearly marked in the chapter headings, and the quick back and forth between characters and dates throughout history kept the story momentum and reader engagement high. Looking back at the table of contents to get my bearings date-wise was a great help whenever I picked up the book.

While the stories of each of the victims were harrowing I did feel the large number of them (unless I missed some special significance in the number?) ultimately lessened their memorability. Also, if there was some special symbolism to be found in relation to the House other than its function, then that went right over my head…

Ultimately, while I enjoyed the detective elements of the story and I quite liked the key characters who seek to bring the killer to justice, the placement of clues in this thriller was a little too convenient (cute) to make The Shining Girls resonate any higher than an enjoyable escapist read for me.

BOOK RATING: The Story 3 / 5 ; The Writing 3 / 5

Genre: Thriller, Action, Romance, Crime-Detective, Sci-Fi-Fantasy, Mystery

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PS: Of the two titles that I’ve read on this year’s Gold Dagger shortlist, I think the lesser known Dead Lions is a more worthy recipient of the award.

Author Information: Lauren Beukes is a South African novelist, short story writer, journalist and television scriptwriter.

Check out Lauren Beukes website and some of her other books including Zoo City, Moxyland and Maverick.

Other reviews of The Shining Girls: GoodreadsThe ObserverBite the BookBook Smugglers, The Guardian, Kirkus Reviews