Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Book Review: "The Shining Girls" by Lauren Beukes

Harper Curtis is a killer. Driven by forces even he can't explain, he is on a mission to eradicate the "shining girls," young women with potential for greatness. He encounters these women often when they are younger, when their potential isn't quite realized, leaves them with a memento, and promises they'll see him again. And they do, although they don't necessarily remember him, and if they do, it's too little, too late.

Kirby Mazrachi is the one that got away. Harper found her when she was six years old, and told her he'd find her. Fifteen years later, he savagely attacked her and left her for dead. But she didn't die. And as she gets older, she's determined to find the person responsible, no matter what the cost, and contrary to the advice of those she cares about.

How do you hunt a killer who can travel back and forth from different times, and who blends in reasonably well with those around him? At what point does the idea of this type of killer begin to seem far-fetched even to you, although you know he exists? Kirby is determined to understand this man and figure out what makes him tick, even as she begins to doubt what she finds. The book shifts perspectives between Kirby and Harper at different times in their lives, and also provides short yet in-depth looks at the other women who meet their fate in Harper's hands.

All in all, I thought this was a pretty cool concept, but the story didn't quite flow as well as I would have hoped. As you'd imagine in a book with a time-traveling killer, the story doesn't proceed in any linear fashion, but because Harper traveled to so many different places, it was difficult to keep his victims and the time frames straight in my head. And while I know that sometimes you just need to accept what happens in a story without asking questions, I wish that Lauren Beukes had spent a little time explaining how "the House," which directed Harper who to kill and from where he was able to travel to different time periods, actually worked, and why it chose the women it targeted.

I really liked Kirby's character in particular and her dogged detective work, and I also thought that Beukes did a great job fleshing out the other women that Harper killed. In a few short pages, you felt the essence of these characters and really felt sad about how they met their fate. In my opinion, the only character that could have used more depth was Harper's. He was certainly menacing and imbalanced, but I would have liked to have understood his character a little bit more than simply seeing him as an evil killer.

This is definitely a page-turner, and a somewhat frightening one at that. I think with a little more explanation of the story, it could have been even better.

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