THE SHINING GIRLS by Lauren Beukes is a book about a serial killer, but it’s far from a typical thriller. Beukes does not portray the killer as a sly, witty, antihero. And she doesn’t make the killer the center of the story like most media outlets. Instead, Beukes focuses on the victims and the consequences of the violent deaths. The women–whose last moments are of terror, pain, and violence–are the center of the story. I think this makes for a far more compelling, if tough and disturbing, read.
The main shining girl is Kirby–the girl who survived her attack. She is a bit broken and jaded by the attack (as anyone would be, I suspect), but she is also driven to find out who did this to her and to get him, not necessarily bring him to justice, but to bring him down. Through an internship with a Chicago paper and a mentor who originally covered her attack, she puts that drive to good work tracking her attacker.
And that attacker, Harper, is not Hannibal Lector or Dexter. He is a cruel, cold, petty, and impotent man. In other words, he is more like a real serial killer. Except in one major way: he has access to a house that lets him travel through time every time he steps out of the front door. Using this house (or is it using him?), Harper jumps through time, killing women and leaving a trail of obscure, anachronistic gifts behind.
And that’s really the best feature of this book: Beukes’s ability to blend together the harsh realism of the attacks and the fantastic element of a time-traveling house. Placed within the ever-changing twentieth century Chicago landscape, Beukes has written a unique, moving urban fantasy.
However, it is a difficult read to get through. The description of the attacks are heartbreaking, and the damage that results is doubly painful. I repeatedly had to put this book down to take a break. But, I will probably not look at media coverage of murders the same way, and that focus on the victim is a good thing.
This might be a struggle for some to read, but if you stick with it, you will be rewarded. This is an intense, moving, and clever book that will stick with you long after you finish it.