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

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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.

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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.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #51 – A Dream of Death by Harrison Drake

There’s nothing wrong with a good serial killer murder mystery. There are many, many things wrong with a less-than-good serial killer murder mystery. Unfortunately, A Dream of Death is the latter. I actually got it from the library (website, that is) because it takes place in Canada, and I was curious to see how things were handled up there (aside from sticking the letter “u” in words like colo(u)r and odo(u)r).

So, anyway, someone is killing women in Ontario. They’re all home alone at night, but they don’t live alone. The killer wants someone to find the victim, so he’s only killing women who live with someone who works at night. Our hero is Lincoln Munroe, a mixed-race veteran detective with a happy family (of course). His partner is a beautiful, young, brilliant (did I mention beautiful) woman (also of course). He respects her, and does not see her as a sexual object in any way. Until he does. When’s that? When her boyfriend works the night shift (of course).

Anyway, his inability to figure out the crime is a problem for Lincoln. He’s pulling away from his family (even before he boinks his partner), and he’s been having bad dreams. Very real dreams where he sees a knife hanging from a tree, feels intense pain, and finds a body. Are they dreams, or flashbacks? And if they’re flashbacks, what are they all about? And when a skeleton is found in the woods in pretty much the same place Lincoln’s dreaming about, what’s up with that?

This being a murder mystery, of course it all gets solved, but in the most trite way possible. There may have been twists, but they were all so obvious that they really can’t be considered twists. Not that anyone out there is planning on reading this, but if you run across it, head for an old Agatha Christie instead.

loulamac’s #CBRV review #19: The Night Stalker by Chris Carter

Oh dear. This book isn’t very good. It’s not Cinderella’s Secret Diary kind of terrible, but it left me wishing I was reading a Patricia Cornwell novel, and I don’t like her stuff very much at all.

The Night Stalker (which sadly isn’t about the terrifying real-life serial killer) is the third book featuring LAPD Detective Robert Hunter, and has little to do with night or stalking, but that’s the least of its problems. It opens with an explosion during an autopsy on a murdered woman. The explosion has been caused by a hand grenade that was sewn into her before she was killed by some kind of sick, twisted serial killer. Yep, you guessed it, we’re in the world of a sick, twisted serial killer. This guy is abducting and killing beautiful successful women in gruesome and excruciating ways, and it’s down to Det Hunter to catch him. That’s about all there is to it, but it still manages to go on for 115 chapters. ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN.

The writing is pretty lame, but I’ve read worse. The problem really comes with the plotting and characterisation. Detective Hunter is a tortured ex-child prodigy genius who is too intense to get close to anyone. Whatevs. At one point he ends up sharing clues with an extraordinarily beautiful and charismatic ex-hostage negotiator cop PI. If I can see how ridiculous that looks written down, then why couldn’t the novelist? When it became clear in the first few chapters that IDing the first victim is beyond the massed powers of the LAPD and coroners team because the explosion has destroyed her remains I nearly threw my Kindle in the swimming pool. Apparently you can’t get DNA from sloppy old explosion mush. Chris Carter could do with watching a bit more CSI. Which now that I’ve finished reading this rubbish is what I’m going to go and do.