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Lauren Beukes - The Shining GirlsFollowing up the dystopian, cynical, and all-too-believable Moxyland and the award-winning - Urban Fantasy of Zoo City Lauren Beukes demonstrates her versatility as a writer by treating us to a tale of a time-travelling serial killer in The Shining Girls.

The story kicks of with a every so slightly creepy meeting between the 7-year old Kirby Mazrachi and Harper, who declares himself not to be a stranger (which means she is allowed to talk to him), and who gives her a plastic pony as a keepsake, with the promise that he'll be back for it.

The rest of the story is told in 3 main threads:

One thread follows Kirby, now in College, and trying to deal with the physical and mental scars of an attempted murder which she only survived by chance, and by the narrowest of margins. She ends up as an Intern, as part of her studies, at the Chicaco Sun-Times, working with Dan Velasquez, who now writes for the Sports part instead of Homicide after a close shave with a heart attack. She rigged it that way, as he is the one who covered her case, and she hopes he can help her with her mission to track down her attacker.

 

Then we have a historic thread, following Harper, an ex-soldier, violent drifter, repeated killer, as he nearly gets killed himself, and, whilst on the run for his life, does lasting damage to his leg, and then find a strange house. The place looks abandoned and derelict from the outside, but the inside is sumptuous, well kitted out and stocked, and it contains a room with a map (for want of a better word) of names, times, associated items, and their interconnection, all in his own writing. When he steps out of the door he only has to think of a time, and the door takes him there.

And the final thread follows Harper as he hops and bounces through the decades like a murderous pinball, visiting his victim when they're younger, taking and bringing his significant objects, and coming back later in their lives, and killing them. Ritually, and slowly, as demanded by the house. All the victims the house requires are different, more alive, they have a certain spark, a quality about them. “Full of life, that lashes out like a whip”, as he puts it. The house wants potential.

At the beginning of the story I cut Harper some slack. No, he's not a model citizen, not someone you'd want to be around, but he's the underdog, he's on the run, and we're used to rooting for people like that. But the more you see and learn of his history, and of his inner life, the less you like him. Beukes if painting a monster.
The repetitive rhythm of introducing a girls/young woman, getting involved in their dreams and struggles, and then the subsequent murder, exhibited to various levels of detail, became slightly tedious, even if there was, in hindsight, a larger story arc and developments in there.
The book is quite an intense read, it grabs you by the scruff of your neck, and drags you into all those lives affected (and mostly extinguished) by Harper. The author uses the warped, cross-running time line to send the reader on a headspin, I found this rather craftily done. Even if I'm quite sure that some of the loops don't fully add up, but leave some paradoxes; time travel has a tendency to create these, we have learned.

Can I recommend the book? Despite the flaws it contained for me I think yes, it's a novel and fascinating take on the serial killer as well as the time travel genre, and I thought the writing to be tighter and more consistent than in her earlier (already rather impressive) efforts. So, unless the subject matter is a complete turn-off for you I would suggest that you have a look when this is published in mid-April.



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Title: The Shining Girls
Author: Lauren Beukes
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Publisher URL: http://harpercollins.co.uk
Publication Date: April 2013
Review Date: 130331
ISBN: 9780007464562
Price: UKP
Pages: 400
Format: ePub
Topic: Time Travel
Topic: Serial Murder

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy (although it has to be said that terminating the DRM several weeks prior to publication, and 30 pages before the end was an inconvenience...)

 

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