Monday, 3 June 2013
Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
Released: April 25th, 2013
“It’s not my fault. It’s yours. You shouldn’t shine. You shouldn’t make me do this.” Chicago 1931. Harper Curtis, a violent drifter, stumbles on a house with a secret as shocking as his own twisted nature – it opens onto other times. He uses it to stalk his carefully chosen 'shining girls' through the decades – and cut the spark out of them. He’s the perfect killer. Unstoppable. Untraceable. He thinks… Chicago, 1992. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Tell that to Kirby Mazrachi, whose life was shattered after a brutal attempt to murder her. Still struggling to find her attacker, her only ally is Dan, an ex-homicide reporter who covered her case and now might be falling in love with her. As Kirby investigates, she finds the other girls – the ones who didn’t make it. The evidence is… impossible. But for a girl who should be dead, impossible doesn’t mean it didn’t happen…
The Shining Girls is one of those rare adult books that catches my attention. It doesn't happen often as I'm not a big adult fiction reader, but something about this one caught my eye and I decided to give it a go. I've never read anything related to crime or thriller fiction - it's never appealed to me - but I'm so glad I gave this one a chance as I loved it. I was so engrossed in it that I took my Kindle to work to continue reading, and I never do that. I just couldn't wait to find out what happened!
I should point out again that this book is definitely for adult readers. It's gruesome in its murder descriptions and is very dark in both tone and content. It centres around a brutal serial killer who kills young women, and because of that I wouldn't recommend it to younger readers or anyone who wouldn't be comfortable reading about things like this. That being said, if you do enjoy fiction like that, then this is one you absolutely have to read. It's a page-turner!
I'm not sure exactly which category to put The Shining Girls into. It's like a crime-thriller-historical-horror story with many different layers and traits, and I can't fit it neatly into one box. I think that's why I liked it so much, it's not easy to define and draws from lots of different genres. There might even be a bit of sci-fi thrown in there thanks to the time travel element.
The Shining Girls is about Harper Curtis, a war veteran living in Chicago in 1931. He's lost, violent, stumbling through life when he happens across a key and a house. The house allows him to visit other decades where he then stalks and kills young women usually in their twenties. One of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives his attack in 1992 and begins to unravel the mystery surrounding the Shining Girls. There's a lot more to it than that, but that's the general gist and the best I can explain it. See what I mean about overlapping genres?
I liked getting to know Harper and Kirby in their separate sections, and I found Kirby's research particularly interesting. Even the Shining Girls were more than just murder victims; Beukes made sure she delved into their lives and showed us a glimpse of who they are. That made their fates even more disturbing to me, because I knew them, however briefly. I wasn't expecting that, but it certainly added to the emotional punch of the story.
As much as I enjoyed this book, there are a couple of aspects I think could have been explained better. For instance, why did these particular girls shine and what was their potential? Did it mean they were destined for great things, or that they just shone because they were Harper's type? Also, I would have liked to know more history of the house and just how people can travel to other decades by stepping through it. Both these points could have been elaborated, leaving less questions and a greater understanding of how the house and the shining worked.
As a sporadic reader of adult fiction, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not well-versed in this particular range of books. I will say though that as a reader who likes good, gripping, exciting stories, of which The Shining Girls is one, I would - and have - been recommending this to everyone. I work in a bookshop and can't wait to tell more customers about it, as I think it will appeal to such a huge spectrum of readers, whether they like crime or horror or a giant amalgamation of the two. So, my advice to anyone curious about this book is to get hold of a copy and give it a try. Hopefully you'll be pleasantly surprised like me, and you'll also be introduced to a fantastic new author. Sometimes the best thing about reading is discovering new books and reading outside your comfort zone (in my case, teenage and children's books), and discovering a brilliant read along the way. That's exactly what I did with The Shining Girls - I had a hunch and it paid off!