Thursday, August 30, 2018

Review of The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (Mulholland, 2013)

1931, Chicago. Harper Curtis tumbles into a house in Chicago to find a dead man. The house seems in tune with Harper’s penchant for violence and has set him a task: to travel back and forth through time to kill the shining girls, leaving and collecting objects. 1974 and Harper steps out of the house, finds Kirby Mazrachi and gifts her a plastic toy pony. 1989 he returns to murder her. But against the odds Kirby survives the savage attack. While Harper continues his temporal journey to collect his shining girls, Kirby starts her journey to track down her would-be killer. She enrols as a journalist student and gets a post as an intern at the Sun-Times. Unable to work the crime desk, she asks to be partnered with Dan Velasquez, an ex-crime reporter who also covered her case. She searches the archives to try and find similar cases and also places classified ads looking for clues that’ll point her in the right direction. But the clues she finds don’t seem to make sense.

In The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes takes the serial killer story and gives it a double twist – the killer travels back and forth over a sixty year period to visit and murder his victims, and one of his victims survives his savage attack and turns hunter. The story is told through two main narrative lines: one following Harper Curtis, the killer who has stumbled across a house that seems to direct him to the shining girls and lets him step out into different times to give them gifts as children, then revisit them later to murder them; the other mapping Kirby Mazrachi’s encounters with Harper and her attempts to track him down given that the police have failed to identify and apprehend him. Occasionally a section focuses on another character, such as Kirby’s mother or Dan Velasquez, her mentor at the Sun-Times newspaper where she’s an intern. While Kirby has some depth, Harper is somewhat one-dimensional and lacks back story. The time-shifting plotline works well and Beukes does a good job of it seeming natural rather than a gimmick and blending it into the historical timeline. The story meanders its way temporally through a number of horrific murders to an inevitable denouement, but then ends at the climax with little in the way of wrap-up and closure. Overall, an interesting take on the serial killer trope.

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