Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #97: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

I am definitely of two minds about this book. On the one hand, I thought the premise was brilliant: a time-travelling serial killer who targets women when they are young girls with “shining” attributes—precocious, talented, ambitious, or just plain plucky—and comes back to kill them and snuff their glow decades later, always leaving behind mementos taken from a previous killing and, most importantly, from a different era, often the future! How do you catch a killer in the 90’s who is living in the ‘30s, or ‘50s, or whatever? One of his victims survives, however, and is determined to find him against all the odds, and the chase is on.

So, the story is set for some challenging writing and plot sequencing. And this is where Beukes fails. Each chapter slips back and forth in time, focusing either on the killer, his victims, or our traumatized but determined heroine and her journalist sidekick. It’s not that there isn’t some kind of sense to what Beukes writes, but it’s all over the place. The timeline shifts so often that it took a notepad and pen for me to keep track of who, what, when and where. And there is never an explanation of how the killer is time-traveling, except for some tenuous link to The House, which is a sinister portal to past, present and future squatting in the midst of one of the most wretched neighborhoods in Chicago. Okay, Beukes isn’t obliged to cross every “t” and dot every “I”, but this is a big plot point—the biggest, in fact—and a totally mystery from beginning to end. Left me frustrated!

Beukes does some lovely things with her story, particularly with her effort to flesh out all of her victims and give us their back stories. They are for the most part fascinating women, and their stories generally reflect the author’s thoughts on such social issues as race, male chauvinism, transgender, poverty, etc. She even makes a stab at giving us a little background on the killer himself, but that falls much flatter, and he remains for the most part a predictable psycho-killer who mutilated small animals as a child, who has delusions about his “mission,” and who wears a cliché rictus grin and an erection at the moment of the kill—and who just happened to luck out on finding a time-travelling portal through which to cover his tracks. What really put me off, though, were her all too lovingly detailed descriptions of each killing, from the sounds his knife made as it plunged through the necks, abdomens, and hearts of his victims, the obsession with looped intestines, the gushing blood, and so on. Enough already!

We know from the start how this novel will end, and it doesn’t disappoint. There are lots of thrills and chills along the way, and even some much needed light moments. What does disappoint is that Beukes had a gem of an idea, and just wasn’t able to polish it to a shine.