Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Shining Girls - Book Review

It’s the UK publication day for The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (out June 4th in the USA). My longer review of the book can be found on Fantasy Faction, but just wanted to give a short review here and post the trailer.

The Time Traveler's Wife meets The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in this story of a time-travelling serial killer who is impossible to trace--until one of his victims survives.

In Depression-era Chicago, Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens on to other times. But it comes at a cost. He has to kill the shining girls: bright young women, burning with potential. He stalks them through their lives across different eras until, in 1989, one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives and starts hunting him back. Working with an ex-homicide reporter who is falling for her, Kirby has to unravel an impossible mystery.

THE SHINING GIRLS is a masterful twist on the classic serial killer tale: a violent quantum leap featuring a memorable and appealing girl in pursuit of a deadly criminal. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

The Shining Girls is one of those books that mixes genres and does so very successfully. It’s a crime/thriller/urban-fantasy focussing on a serial killer and the girl who wants to catch him, with the element of time travel thrown in. Mixing time travel with a serial killer is a genius idea – the murderer, Harper Curtis, leaves bodies in different times, hopping back and forth through Chicago from the 20s to the 90s leaving no trail that the police can follow. There’s only one clue – the objects that Harper takes from each victim and leaves on the body of another, objects that are out of time.

Harper doesn’t choose his victims; his time-travelling house does it for him. Yes, you heard that right – a time-travelling house. There’s an element of fatalism in this, as Harper targets his victims because he has already killed them. There is a display of mementos in a bedroom of the house; when he stumbles across it he feels the objects’ owners calling out to him, to murder them and resolve the time loop. This is why they shine. Time travel mixes well with the idea of the serial killer as someone who feels compelled to kill their targets. Time travel also allows the author to show Chicago through the years, providing a fascinating look at the city and how it changed through time, as well as some of the ways that history seems to repeat itself.

And the magical time-travelling house? Never fully explained, but linked to Harper’s psychotic, cruel character – the house is just as malevolent as he, and a really creepy presence throughout the story. I also loved the combination of magic with time travel. This kind of genre blending is something that I really enjoy.

The story is pretty violent in places, and there are many disturbing elements. The serial killer targets women exclusively, and sometimes the murders are described graphically. For me, this was countered by Lauren Beukes’ extraordinary ability to make the reader care about each victim in so few words, giving each a strong voice, as well as the fact that the murders are never glamorised and Harper is not at all sympathetic, even in his point of view chapters. And then there is Kirby, the girl who got away, who refuses to be a victim, and who is determined to catch Harper. Her interactions with Dan, a reporter who she hopes will help her with the case, bring the book to life, ensuring that it is not simply a stream of killings. However, if you think graphic descriptions of violence might make you too uncomfortable, or if you don’t enjoy serial killer thrillers, perhaps give this one a miss.

I really enjoyed this book. I was completely gripped the whole way through, staying up late to see how it would end (a very good ending, I thought). It’s exciting, well-paced, sometimes disturbing, sometimes uplifting, with some good characters and a fantastic setting.

Thank you to Little, Brown and Company and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

And here is the book trailer:


  1. This sounds really cool Victoria and I love the blending of genres. I don't even mind that the house is never fully explained. Adding this one to my list. Thanks sharing it as it's completely new to me!

  2. What an interesting idea for a novel!

    1. It's really original! And written very well too :-)