The Shining Girls
Mulholland Books, 2013
Summer of 1974. A serial killer who travels through time, Harper Curtis, gives an orange toy pony to a girl playing outside her house. Th girl's name is Kirby, and many years later, Harper will trt to kill Kirby, but she will survive.
Curtis has the opportunity to travel back and forth in time by accident. In 1929, he accidentally found the house of a gambler, Pole by birth. The Pole house was House - a place that bloodthirsty and making its inhabitants dependent. The House holds its owner as sort of hostage, making to kill and opening the door to the future and the past. Harper kills the Pole and makes House his refuge. There, in the House, Harper will keep his victims’ things, as well as record their names. The mechanism of movement over time is not explained, but Harper understands that he can not travel before 1929 and past 1993. In his victims the killer chooses the Shining girls from the title of the novel - a talented, capable, bright young women. Maniac acts on the round system: he always meets his future victim, when she is still a child , and then kills her as a grown woman, leaving at the victim’s body some artifact from the future.
The only surviving victim of the attacks is Kirby, who lives with her mother. Kirby attempted murder is committed when the girl walks her dog in the rain. Harper would have killed the girl if it were not the dog, which attacked the killer and received a knife in its neck. Wounded Kirby with the dead dog on her arms barely escapes from the forest to the road, where she was transported to the hospital.
After rehabilitation, Kirby chooses to study the journalism, and makes the purpose of her life the capture of a maniac. Lacking funds, Kirby can not hire a private detective, so she becomes an amateur sleuth herself. She takes an intern place in the Chicago newspaper Chicago Sun-Times, where her mentor is a sports columnist Dan, who worked for many years as a crime reporter and wrote about the attempt on Kirby.
In her third book Lauren Beukes mixes chrono SF with a detective story about a serial killer. The Shining Girls is named a thriller, only you barely find thrills here.
Science fiction amd mystery must work with each other and perform their functions. Time travel here is not explained. The House is a portal leading to a certain time period, one has only to select a particular time. The presence of House as certain accumulation of evil forces is intended to humanize the killer. Harper himself is not a cruel man, it is House that makes him kill. The serial killer’s past, too, is designed to alleviate the guilt from Harper: he is a veteran of the war, betrayed by his country, a gimp soldier. But a few strokes of the past is not enough to elicit sympathy for a ruthless killer. And because a good half of the book tells about the crimes of the murderer, the reader will have to spend half a book in the company of a disgusting character, cartoonish and flat.
Mystery element does not cause delight either. Chapters of the murders resemble each other, only the victim changes, but the essence is the same: the killer is playing with a child, and then in the future calmly killing the victim. Beukes forced to repeat herself after the third victim. Gradually it becomes clear that the chapters with the killings can be skipped, and nothing will be lost for the reader.
Against the background of faceless killer and his victims the heroine of the book, surviving victim Kirby is somewhat more deep character. Beukes made Kirby a punk girl, sarcastic person, with mutilated body and soul. But the scars on the soul and the body have not changed the life of the heroine too much. Kirby's body is fully functional, and if there was an emotional trauma, it is gone. Having survived the murderous attempt, barely survived, Kirby is surprisingly cheerful. The attempt does not seem to affect the life of the heroine, which is very unlikely. If you compare Kirby with the heroine of Gillian Flynn’s novel Dark Places Libby Day, which was the only surviving victim of the killer, who murdered the whole Libby’s family, it will seem like Kirby had not been stabbed by a maniac, but just fell off the bike.
Sometimes human features erupt in Kirby: in the very first scene of the novel she is a whimsical, rowdy child, and later, a sarcastic intern, Kirby takes her intern responsibilities lightly, slacking off work. But most of the time Kirby is just a type of the amateur detective, whom literature already has seen enough.
The whole team of researchers and assistants did not help revive Beukes time and place. Chicago from the novel is a set of stamps and names scattered through the text, so that the reader does not forget where things happen. And the time period 1930-1993 is a meaningless frame. The main part of the book takes place in the early nineties: the newspapers had not yet lost to the Internet, mobile phones have not replaced the landlines, DNA tests have not caught on to the police. But Byukes writes in language of the 90's, not 00s, and then slipping on the details. Kirby and Dan go to the concert of Naked Raygun in the middle of 1992. The band is called punk band, although at that time the band's style has changed from hardcore to power pop (and they did not play punk at all) , and in '92 the band broke up.
In the dialogue between Dan and Kirby, he says that a gangbanger killed one of the victims. But at that time the term "gangbanger" was rarely used, and when used, it’s definition was altogether different of today’s definition.
The Shining Girls is hardly a thriller. The novel is predictable from start to finish. What can the novel offer to chill the blood? Murders are similar to each other, and you know very well that they will happen and happen. Dan and Kirby will go to concerts, sports games, periodically review the dusty boxes of useless material. At the very least you'd expect a smart end. Alas, everything is based on the coincidence, and then completely reduced to the fist fight.
The Shining Girls neither shine nor warm.