Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes Review

The Shining GIrls by Lauren Beukes Book Cover
The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die Hunts the Killer Who Shouldn’t Exist

The future is not as loud as war, but it is relentless. It has a terrible fury all its own.

Harper Curtis is a killer who stepped out of the past. Kirby Mazrachi is the girl who was never meant to have a future.

Kirby is the last shining girl, one of the bright young women, burning with potential, whose lives Harper is destined to snuff out after he stumbles on a House in Depression-era Chicago that opens on to other times.

At the urging of the House, Harper inserts himself into the lives of the shining girls, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He’s the ultimate hunter, vanishing into another time after each murder, untraceable-until one of his victims survives.

Determined to bring her would-be killer to justice, Kirby joins the Chicago Sun-Times to work with the ex-homicide reporter, Dan Velasquez, who covered her case. Soon Kirby finds herself closing in on the impossible truth . . .

The Shining Girls is a masterful twist on the serial killer tale: a violent quantum leap featuring a memorable and appealing heroine in pursuit of a deadly criminal.

Olly @ Sci-fi and Scary’s Review

There is much that is brilliant about Lauren Beukes’ ‘The Shining Girls’. So much that I’m not sure if the fact that it doesn’t quite work in the end is forgivable or even more frustrating than it would have been otherwise. It’s an imaginative, gripping mish-mash of genres with a great female lead and some great writing, but too many loose ends and fortunate coincidences to feel entirely credible.

It’s about a serial killer from the 1930s, Harper Curtis, who can hop to different time zones. He does this to hunt and kill his ‘shining girls’, young women who exude an aura only he can see. In a really creepy twist he visits the women as children before returning in their adult lives to slaughter them. One of his victims, Kirby, who lives in 1990s Chicago, survives his assault and sets about to find and stop him.

The book veers between greatness and mediocrity. Beukes manages to make the central time travelling concept believable (although she never digs into the hows and whys of it), but I found my suspension of disbelief was eroded by a string of other unlikely events Kirby is a great heroine, a cub reporter at a big paper, using her press badge to try and investigate the cold cases she believes her attacker is guilty of. Sadly, the killer himself just doesn’t measure up to her. He’s a two dimensional, leering pantomime villain with no clear motives for his crimes beyond unexplained insanity.

A lot of the prose is great. Sentences like “The thing about gravity is that it wins every time” leap off the page. Some of the lesser characters are wonderful, especially the other shining girls. These women really come alive as believable human victims of violence rather than just literary cannon fodder. Through their lives and deaths, Beukes paints a great picture of Chicago across multiple decades she describes. Her plotting is much weaker though, especially in the final third where the book just kind of resolves itself without the characters having to do too much.

The blending of genres mostly works, largely because the strength of Kirby as a final girl pulls you through the book, but it doesn’t resoundingly succeed at any of the things it tries to be. As horror it’s creepy and gory, but the monster lacks something; as science fiction it stretches credibility too much; and as a mystery it doesn’t let its detectives solve anything. Oddly it is as a romance (the genre you’re probably least likely to associated with it), that it works best, the relationship between Kirby and her boss at the paper is believable and sweet and I found myself rooting for them.

I’m really left in two minds about it. There is so much to like here that it’s hard not to recommend it, but as a whole it fails to satisfy and left me with that bittersweet feeling that I’d nearly read a masterpiece.

Goodreads | Better World Books | Amazon | Mulholland Books

About Lauren Beukes

Author Photo Lauren Beukes

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Lauren Beukes is an award-winning, internationally best-selling novelist who also writes comics, screenplays, TV shows and journalism. Her novels, including The Shining GirlsBroken Monsters and Zoo City have been translated into 23 languages and are being developed for film and TV.

Beukes is a former journalist, who has covered HIV+ beauty pageants, ganglands cops and great white shark tourism. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town. Her fiction has been described as high-concept and genre-blending, with a social conscience that examines the fracture points of society and who we are.

Awards include the Arthur C Clarke Award, the University of Johannesburg prize, the August Derleth Award for Best Horror, the Strand Critics Choice Award for Best Mystery Novel, the RT Thriller of the Year and the Mbokodo Award from South Africa’s Department of National Arts and Culture. Her work has been praised by Stephen King, George RR Martin, James Ellroy and Gillian Flynn as well as The New York TimesThe Guardian and NPR.

Her other published work includes the corporate dystopia, Moxyland, the non-fiction, Maverick: Extraordinary Women From South Africa’s Past and a collection, Slipping, short stories, essays and other writing. 

She also writes comics, including Survivor’s Club, an original horror series with Dale Halvorsen and Ryan Kelly, the NYT-best-selling Fables spin-off, Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom with Inaki Miranda, and a Wonder Woman-in-Soweto one-shot for kids, The Trouble With Cats with art by Mike Maihack.

In animation, she was head-writer, co-creator and occasional director of URBO: The Adventures of Pax Afrika, a sci-fi action adventure show for 7-9 year olds, which ran for three years and 104 x24min episodes on SABC. She has also written for Disney UK’s Florrie’s Dragons and Mouk.

In 2010, she directed a documentary, Glitterboys & Ganglands, which won best LGTBI film at the Atlanta Black Film Festival.

She’s given talks on storytelling at tech/culture/design/lit conferences around the world, including Tedx Johannesburg, Webstock and D-Construct. She’s spearheaded charity art show fundraisers for all her books, raising R100 000 for RapeCrisis and R350 0000 for kids lit org, Book Dash.

When she’s not on tour, or travelling for research, from Detroit to Zagreb, Muskat to Port-au-Prince, she lives in Cape Town, South Africa with her nine year old daughter.

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