Even Stevens’s #CBR5 review #23: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes


The Shining Girls is a time-traveling serial killer cat-and-mouse thriller.  Got all that? Obviously, you have to check your disbelief at the door here.

Harper has had that killer urge since he was a boy, and as he grows older, it gets even stronger and he begins to kill when he can get away with it. After a fortuitous (and cleverly circular) string of events, Harper discovers a time traveling portal in a house in Chicago, and that’s when Harper begins his life as a serial killer. Harper will step out into different times and hunt girls, his girls – he knows them by their shine. He always goes back to make sure the job is complete and he’s always been successful – until Kirby. Kirby is the only girl to ever survive his attack (though just barely) and she spends her life after the attack searching for the man who nearly killed her. Kirby gains an internship at a paper and teams up with Dan, a sports writer (and former crime reporter), to hunt down a killer.

This book has so many outrageous elements that it just shouldn’t work. Unexplained magical time portal? Check. Vicious serial killer? Check.  Tough yet vulnerable survivor protagonist? Check, check and check. In the hands of someone with mediocre skills this would have been as schlocky as it sounds, but in Beukes hands, it just shines (I’m sorry. I had to.) Each of Harper’s victims is introduced to us and I found myself rooting for them, even though you knew what the outcome would have to be. Beukes creates more 3-D characters in a few pages than some writers can in entire books.

Kirby is a great character, she’s smart and ambitious and she’s driven to find her attacker, and she is hell bent on revenge. I loved that she wasn’t 100% healed, and likely never would be, and sometimes she was bitter as hell. I liked her friendship with Dan and there was a lot of humorous moments peppered in to make the story not so heavy. Beukes really has a wonderful way with creating characters and that’s where the strength of this novel lies. There are some clichés to be found (sociopath with no empathy, bohemian free-spirited mother, disillusioned reporter) but she takes them just a step above so that even when I knew something was coming, I enjoyed the journey she took me on to get there.

If you’re a mystery/thriller fan and are looking for something outside of the box, this is definitely the book for you. It’s smart and funny and really just fun as hell.

ABR’s #CBR5 Review #16: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

shining-girlsThe Shining Girls is about a time-traveling serial killer. For a reason that really isn’t explained, Harper Curtis is tasked with traveling through time to kill ‘shining girls’ or girls who have great potential. The book jumps from present to past and back again as Harper meets, stalks and kills his victims.

Kirby Mazrachi is the only woman who survives a gruesome attack by Harper. The great potential Kirby promised as a young girl (Harper often meets his victims as girls or young women to give them a token and tell them he’ll come back for them in the future) may have been squashed but now she is determined to find Harper.

Kirby gets an internship at the Chicago Sun-Times and persuades sports reporter Dan Velasquez to help her. Velasquez covered Kirby’s case years ago but moved to the sports beat after years as a crime reporter left him jaded.

As with any time travel book it can be difficult to keep track of Harper’s travels. Since he meets the girls multiple times in their lives I had to flip back and forth a bit to keep track of everyone. The concept is interesting and the story is compelling but it is also extremely violent – think what you will about the fact that all the victims are women, all are intelligent or compassionate or promising, most are also ethnic.

For me, this book suffers for two major reasons. Firstly, there are a number of clichés. Of course there is a simmering romance between Kirby and Dan. Of course Kirby, an inexperienced reporter, is able to track down a serial killer that no experienced professional could find. Of course, there is a vague ending that could lead to a sequel.

Secondly, the book tries to be a science-fiction/horror/mystery and each genre ends up diluted. Add to that some extremely graphic, misogynistic attacks, a couple implausible plot points and a silly, climactic snowball fight and the result is disappointing.