Shining Girls


Lauren Beukes




Date Reviewed:

July 21, 2013

picked this book up out of the library on Saturday morning, and finished reading it by the end of the weekend. It is a dramatic page turner. The Shining Girls is the story of a vicious killer named Harper. He is a brutal man in the Depression era of Chicago. It appears he is fated for a violent death until he stumbles into an ordinary seeming house. But when exiting the house, Harper finds himself in another time. Harper quickly learns that the house allows him to move back and forth between various eras (the range of times seem to be the 1920s up to the 1990s), which gives him incredible flexibility - with the ability to move through time, Harper can elude all forces of the law. Harper becomes an uncatchable serial killer, his very existence is unsuspected because his evil crimes are committed across decades.

Kirby is a young exuberant woman, innocently out walking her dog, when she is attacked by a murderous killer. Kirby fights and struggles and manages to elude her attacker, but with grievious wounds that put her into a hospital on life support. Modern medicine being what it is, Kirby survives. Harper is himself badly hurt by their vicious encounter, but as soon as he is able, he returns to Kirby's time to make sure he has finished her off. At the hospital, Harper is told that Kirby has died. One more Shining Girl extinguished! Satisfied that he has dispatched another victim, Harper returns to his own time and plots his next deed.

Kirby does indeed live, but she is emotionally as well as physically damaged by the ferocious assault. The police are unable to find any clues, the assailant appears to have vanished into thin air. How can Kirby track down a man who doesn't exist? Before the internet existed, the best repository of information in a city is often the local newspaper. Kirby begins work at the newspaper

Here are a couple things I really enjoyed about the book: Harper is a excellently portrayed violent, dangerous, evil man. This guy is quite the creepy bad guy, and Beukes doesn't spare the reader the gory results of his attacks on the young women. I also liked the pace of the novel, I kept reading to find out what happened next. I found some of the scenes quite suspenseful. There is also some sadness and despair as another Shining Girl falls prey to Harper's murderous attacks. The whole idea of a time travelling serial killer seemed original to me. I liked the Kirby character, especially her interaction with Dan the reporter, the wise old salt who has spent his whole career in the newsroom.

My major complaint about the novel is that so much is unexplained. It's okay to accept as a plot device that the house gives Harper the ability to travel through time, but why do some girls "shine" and attract Harper? Especially across the decades? Why doesn't Harper do more to enrich himself with his knowledge of the future? The fate of Dan is too murky. I also wish there had been more "detective work" by Kirby to figure out how Harper operated.

I think The Shining Girls is the kind of story that could be translated into an excellent movie. It has a lot of drama and suspense, some good characters, and time travel movies can be really interesting. In addition to the classic movie based on H. G. Wells novel, I also like the movies The Time Traveller's Wife (it is also a terrific novel), Looper, and Twelve Monkeys. If you want to read a wonderful time travel novel (much different in tone than The Shining Girls), try the Tim Powers book The Anubis Gates.