The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (Mulholland, June 4th, 2013)-It’s 1974 and Harper Curtis approaches a little girl and gives her a little orange pony. This little girl’s name is Kirby Mizrachi, and little does she know, she’s a shining girl, and when she’s older, Harper will be back for her, and it won’t be to give her another pony.
Harper Curtis is a man on a mission. He’s already honed his sociopathic ways into a fine point in 1930s Chicago before he discovers a House that opens doors into other times. In this House he discovers a wall covered in names and is compelled to seek out each girl, which he does, as young girls, then later, as young women. And it’s then that he strikes, swiftly and brutally. The annihilation of these “shining girls” usually goes as planned, until Kirby. She’s the one that gets away, and armed with her scars, and plenty of smarts, she’s determined to find her would-be killer, who seemed to disappear without a trace. She joins the Chicago Sun-Times as an intern and is partnered with Dan Valesquez, an ex-homicide reporter who now covers sports. Kirby’s plan is to use all the resources available to her at the paper to hunt down the man we know as Harper Curtis, and Valesquez is ultimately drawn into her search. What they eventually uncover is a seeming impossibility, and when Harper discovers that Kirby is still alive, he’ll do anything to put her down and finish what he started.
I admit it. When it comes to Lauren Beukes and her work, I’m a total fangirl. I adored Zoo City and so had very high hopes for The Shining Girls. It didn’t let me down. In fact, certain things might have suffered, like sleep, during the reading of the book. Harper Curtis is everything you expect from a serial killer. He’s cunning, ruthless, and absolutely without empathy. All those things in combination make for a horrifying enough monster, but add time travel, and it gives a whole new meaning to “getting away with it.” Now, he’s not perfect, and there are a couple of times where he gets sloppy, but in the end, he always slips away, back to the House that to most people, looks derelict and abandoned on the outside, but is very, very different on the inside. As cunning as he is though, he may have met his match in Kirby. She’s not to be deterred in her search, even as the clues start to add up to something that should be impossible.
The author has taken a serial killer story and made it so much more than the usual fare. We get to know each of Harper’s shining girls (their individual stories are fascinating, sometimes heartbreaking), and although there’s much time jumping, each time period featured is fleshed out, and I was thoroughly immersed in the narrative, making for a very tense and atmospheric read. Kirby is most definitely the focus, however, and I couldn’t help but fall in love with a girl that refused to fall apart after a horrific attack (and it’s awful, really, really awful.) Beukes’s attention to detail is impressive, and her ability to take her stories and characters and elevate them way above the norm is what I love about her writing. The Shining Girls is horrifying, exciting, very fast paced, downright creepy, and thoroughly genre-defying . Some big names better watch out, because Lauren Beukes has arrived. The Shining Girls hits like a runaway locomotive and will keep you absolutely riveted. I don’t think it’s a stretch for me to predict that this one will be on a ton of Best of 2013 lists, and with good reason. Absolutely not to be missed!