Written by: Lauren Beukes
Hardcover: 375 pages
Publisher: Mulholland Books
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.
I like crime thrillers. While I don’t read a ton of it usually, when I do I am usually quite happy to do so. Which is weird because quite often they are gross and gruesome and deal with some very bad baddies. I had heard about the Shining Girls for a while, but it languished in my TBR pile like so many other books. But I was determined to start whittling down that list because…well I need to.
Oh how I wanted to like this book. I had heard so many good things. I loved the premise. The cover was nice in its simplicity. How could it go wrong?
Harper Curtis is a drifter with a chip on his shoulder and gangsters on his heels in Great Depression era Chicago. Until one night he find the House. A house that helps him travel through time. Now he can hunt and watch the Shining Girls, killing them before they get a chance to shine too bright.
Kirby Mazrachi never should have survived Harper, but she did. Now she is hunting him. Determined to find her would-be killer Kirby joins the Chicago Sun Times to work with the reporter who handled her case. Can she find Harper before the House lets Harper find her again?
Things I liked: I absolutely loved the premise of Shining Girls. What is not to like? You have a time traveling serial killer who, through a dilapidated house, manages to travel through the decades picking off women as he pleases. Women who are doing things outside of the cultural norms, women who shine. With such a long period of time no one can really connect him to anything. He can just keep doing what he pleases. Then there is a girl who didn’t die and she is spending most of her adult life searching for the man. Who will find who first? Great idea, right? Could be an awesome flick when it comes out next year. I just didn’t love it the way I wanted or expected to, but I will get to that a bit later.
As I said I loved the premise and I liked Kirby. She is beautifully broken by the things that have been done to her. She survived Harper’s attack. Now as an intern she is investigating her would be killer. Sure you pity her. You are supposed to empathize or she wouldn’t be a great character. She is snarky and flawed, she distances herself from people, makes rash decisions, and makes mistakes. Understandable. And yet I wanted a bit more. I wanted more tenacity. I wanted her to fight. And yet life seems to be fairly easy. Her search for her would be killer was too damn easy, her bosses way too nice considering she wasn’t really do anything she was hired for. She just started to lose some of believability and likability part way through the story. Unfortunate.
Of all the characters, Dan was actually my favorite. Grizzled and lovable reporter for the Chicago Sun Times he has seen his share of death until he decided to leave crime reporting behind for sports. That is until Kirby walks into his life again. While their attempted romance felt a bit forced I did really like the dynamic between Dan and Kirby.
I think one of my favorite things about this book was watching Chicago come alive through the various decades turning into the city that people know and love today. The way that Beukes writes about each of the eras from shanty towns to high rises is great. I loved it. It is clear that she did her research. It feels vivid and real so gold star for that.
Things I didn’t like so much: Maybe I have been watching too many Criminal Minds episodes of late (Thank you Netflix) but Harper didn’t make sense to me. The girls shine for Harper, but how? Why? We never really get to see or understand his motivations or his psychosis. He waits in the house, is patient, waiting for his victims. He even stalks them (sometimes since they were children, following them through the years). But what is ultimately the trigger? Does the house truly choose them for him and he is just acting on behalf of it? Ugh, why? Just tell me why. Without this insight Harper loses some of his dimension and some of the oomph. I don’t fully understand him. He lacks some of the villainy greatness I think he could have had. Especially as one of the main narrators. Again, maybe it’s too many episodes of Criminal Minds. I just wanted Harper to be something other than a killing machine. I wanted him to be the villain you love to hate. He is not charming like Hannibal or horrifying like some of the other villains I’ve read. He is merely a killer. He just fell flat and was rather boring which, like I said, is not good when he is one of the main characters.
For some reason the way the time travel aspect of the novel was formatted didn’t work for me. Which is weird. It should have, the jumps back and forth, each chapter focusing on a different character and a different time as Kirby tries to find her would be killer and Curtis finds more Shining Girls. Everything just blurred instead. Instead of helping the pacing and the feeling of dread, it became a book that I put down and picked up a lot.
None of the women get to be anything more than victims. Each time they are introduced we are given enough of a backstory to make them sympathetic. But before any of them are fully realized they are gone. To be honest half of them were more interesting than Kirby and had me wishing one of them had survived instead. It’s not that Kirby is bad, but some of the backstories the other victims had were slightly more interesting. Plus, Kirby’s hunt for her attempted killer was just too easy, too lucky. Less mystery and whodunit.
Finally, I guess the crime/thriller aspects of the novel just fell flat for me. There was no dread, no thrills. Plus Harper was a bad villain for me that lacked any depth. I found I liked Harper’s time with the two nurses more enlightening towards his character than any of the kills. The Shining Girls is not a bad book, but it wasn’t for me and I felt like it could have been so much more than what it was. I hope it fares better as a film.
Buy or Borrow: Borrow. While the book ultimately wasn’t for me, the premise is great and for that alone it is worth at least picking up at your local library.
Part of: Standalone.
Also Recommended: For more serial killer goodness (ack can there be goodness) please give Heartsick by Chelsea Cain a go. You also might enjoy something from Tami Hoag or J.D. Robb. Of course there is always Kathy Reichs or Patricia Cornwell or Lee Childs.
2 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks