May 29, 2013

Time is on a killer’s side

By Lauren Beukes
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Get your running gear on—in The Shining Girls, you’ll be taken on a breathtaking, loopy trip through time.

South African novelist Lauren Beukes, who penned the award-winning sci-fi/fantasy Zoo City, returns with The Shining Girls, a creepy, supernatural thriller set in Chicago, where a dilapidated House (yes, capital “H”) containing a mysterious portal sends the book’s villain back and forth through time. Throughout the 20th century, he dispatches a series of women in brutal fashion, removing a small item from one victim here, depositing it with another there, then materializing back at the House to review his exploits.

A former victim seeks justice against a time-traveling serial killer in Lauren Beukes' new novel.

Kirby Mazrachi has survived horrific wounds as the only victim to escape—barely—one of Harper’s attacks, and she’s obsessed with tracking him down. She knows there’s something wacky about how he operates; impossibly, she remembers that he first visited her when she was 6 years old. An intern at the Chicago Sun-Times, Kirby has lots of archived news records at her disposal, and for help there’s Dan, the sports editor who’s falling in love with her. Otherwise, there doesn’t seem much to recommend this hunt, as Harper appears to hold all the cards.

Beukes, a talented writer, is blessed with a graceful yet spot-on prose style, often bordering on the sublime, and she knows how to tap into the tics and crooked depths of her main characters, especially a plenty-screwed-up Kirby and her druggy mom, Rachel, who are described with startling insight. And of course there’s the character of the House, which, depending on the year you enter it, runs from seductively inviting to a mangled wreck. For any who hold a key, however, it yields a doorway that conquers time.

Harper is another matter. Even though we have his evil grins and private murderous satisfactions at our disposal, it’s hard to get much of a look at what drives him. He’s drawn to a select group of women who “shine” for him in some way—with potential or just plain life—and he’s driven to dispose of them violently. Beyond that, we mainly witness his cruel, frenetic journeys.

Whipping back and forth in time gets a trifle confusing and is sometimes a letdown. Chapters skip jarringly among the years and characters, giving us little opportunity to absorb where we are. How much better this author’s talent would shine if she were to send us a more lasting, intelligent thrill.

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The Shining Girls

The Shining Girls

By Lauren Beukes
Mulholland Books
ISBN 9780316216852

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