Synopsis: 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.
One thing I can certainly say about this year is I've tried many authors I had never read before -- Robert McCammon, Charles Dickins, TS Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Gillian Flynn, et cetera. Most -- if not all -- of these authors are among my very favorites and I have been slowly and surely working my way through each of their respective oeuvres. Adding to that list, I tackled my first Lauren Beukes novel, The Shining Girls, a story that combines two of my favorite things -- time travel and serial killings -- into a fast-paced thriller that, for the most part, works.
Harper Curtis stumbles upon a house (or The House, as he calls it) by chance -- or perhaps fate? -- while on the run in 1931 Chicago. The house has a portal through which it is possible to travel in time, and Harper grabs the chance. He soon finds names in the house of girls he feels "drawn to" because they shine... what Beukes means by shining is never made clear, but one can infer it means these girls have a vivacious life force and Harper feels the call to snuff it out with brutal killing. He does this without a second thought or remorse, traveling through various decades up until summer 1993, murdering woman upon woman in his path.
One thing that really makes this novel cook is the girls Harper murders. Beukes draws each one beautifully, taking care to illustrate them and make them come alive, if only for a few pages before their tragic slaughters. Ironically enough, the murder victims feel more like three dimensional characters than Harper or Kirby, the girl who Harper tried murdering without success and is now trying to sniff him out. Harper kills without any remorse or human emotion whatsoever, so after a while he begins to become a bit of a bore. And Kirby -- a woman who has led a troubled life, I know -- relies too heavily on sarcasm to keep her peers (and, unfortunately, the reader) at bay... so it's like we never really know her true thoughts or motives.
Since I'm complaining, I would like to point something else out -- Harper's total lack of interest in the decades he travels to and his totally unrealistic ability to fit in and adapt to whatever time period he's in. Keep in mind that this dude is from '31, a time when The Great Depression was in full swing and there was no such thing as television or fast food restaurants or everyone in the city driving an automobile. When Harper travels for the first time -- to '88 -- he marvels at television sets in a department store window for a few minutes and... that is it. That's all that's mentioned of him being shocked or in awe of technological and social evolution (or, in some cases, devolution)... throughout the rest of the novel he doesn't stop to notice anything nor does he even mess up, aside from using out-of-date money a couple of times. Part of the fun of any time travel story is seeing how the traveler adjusts to whatever time they go to... and this novel severely lacked that, rendering the journey through time(s) aspect useless and gimmicky.
I know it sounds like I was not very impressed with this novel, but that isn't exactly true. I thought it was decent, and thanks to this reading I have Beukes's Broken Monsters coming in the mail. I was just a bit let down by the author not taking full advantage of the story she came up with. In the right hands, this could have been an epic novel, a world-building serial killer tale to rival any other serial killer tale. The premise is great, but the delivery did not always live up to my expectations. It was a quick, fun read and the characters were enjoyable, albeit rather cardboard cut-out at times (I'm especially looking at every guy from the newspaper Kirby works with... I can't remember any of them except Dan, a fat guy who enjoys baseball and... that's kind of it), and the action really never lets up. There are constant revelations to be had and Beukes knows how to keep her readers intrigued if nothing else. I was going to give this one four stars, but as I've written this review I've talked myself down to 3 1/2. Check this out, but maybe buy it used.