By Lauren Beukes
Available now from Mulholland (Little, Brown)
South African author Lauren Beukes is well known among genre fans for ZOO CITY, her Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning novel. She makes her big six debut with THE SHINING GIRLS, a novel that is more literary but still true to her genre roots.
Harper is a serial killer. And when the Depression-era vagrant finds the House, he's a serial killer who can time travel, any time between 1931 and 1993. He's guided to the shining girls, women with potential and ambition. He meets them as children and kills them as adults, taking and leaving little trinkets from girl to girl.
Kirby Mizrachi is the one who got away, who survived a brutal attack that left her with scars and difficulty making friends. She's determined to track down the man who tried to kill her and maneuvers herself into a journalism internship so that she can access the homicide archives. Soon enough she has her boss Dan helping her out. But the dates just aren't adding up.
THE SHINING GIRLS is fast-paced, with the short chapters and paced scares of any summer thriller. But it's also clever and involved, using time travel to its full advantage. There's only one passage that I felt came too early in the novel, but I like how Beukes came back to it multiple times from different perspectives. THE SHINING GIRLS has many narrators and it's amazing how different their voices sound. Kirby and Harper are the main two, but almost all of the shining girls get their own chapter or two. They're mothers and daughters, lesbians and wives, cisgender and transgender, scandalous and pillars of the community. Beukes develops each one in their short time and makes their loss meaningful.
I did appreciate that THE SHINING GIRLS wasn't overly gory. There is gore, and violence, and Harper's unpleasant musings. But Beukes doesn't linger over the violence and make it sexy. It's short and only described in detail when necessary. I don't think I could've made it through THE SHINING GIRLS, good as it was, if the attacks were longer and more descriptive.
As it was, I read THE SHINING GIRLS in one sitting. I was happy I had the day off, because I don't think I could've put it down. It's a brilliant thriller with time travel. I was hooked from the first deliciously creepy chapter and then it was off to the races. THE SHINING GIRLS is everything I could've wanted from a book about a time-traveling serial killer.