Every so often a book comes along that everyone seems to be reading and talking about all at once, and because I can be a bit perverse I tend to avoid them until the puff dies down a bit, then I dive in when no-one else is looking and often fall in love with them quietly in a corner. I did that most recently with Gone Girl (which I thought was great as you can see here) and was going to do the same this time round with Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls which only came out in April. But something drew me in, possibly the tagline; after all who can resist the idea of “the girl who wouldn’t die hunting the killer who shouldn’t exist”? Certainly not me.
So the book opens in Chicago in the 1920s where we meet Harper Curtis who I think its fair to say is not a nice man at all. He’s in pretty dire straits when we first come across him, beaten and hunted, but he finds himself in possession of a key to a very particular House one that allows him access to other times (and for that reason really deserves to be capitalised). Harper is a killer, hunting down the shining girls, young women of promise and vitality whom he taunts and murders rather brutally. But he meets his match in Kirby Mazrachi who astonishingly survives his horrendous attack and when the police cannot (understandably) find her would-be murderer begins to investigate and comes across evidence which points to a situation which cannot possibly be true. But of course is. And she goes after him.
The Shining Girls is absolutely brilliant, a fabulously clever idea and a wonderfully constructed book which twists and loops through time as we follow both Harper and Kirby. The structure of the novel is complex but never confusing though it must have required a phenomenal amount of organisation to keep the various stories straight over 80 years of events. The young women whom Harper kills are all proper characters; we learn quite a bit about each of them and that makes what happens to them so awful. Kirby is a wonderful character, trying to make sense of the terrible thing that was done to her but still flawed and damaged as you would expect. Harper is just a dreadful human being; it isn’t clear whether the House “makes” him do these awful things or whether he would have done something like this anyway, it’s just the spread of his attacks over time which keeps him hidden. But totally totally odious.
I really loved the mix of time-travel and serial killer and I appreciated that not all of the answers are handed to you as a reader. The situation is just as it is and I found that was good enough for me. Definitely a book worthy of re-reading.