Serial Killer Story with a Twist: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Posted by Justine Solomons on 6 January 2014, in Recommendations

Buy The Shining Girls.

Review by Tracey Sinclair

I’m not usually a fan of crime books where we spend too much time in the killer’s mind – too often it seems these chapters are there simply to show off the novelist’s ability to write different kinds of prose, and I find myself speed reading through them until I get to the meat of the action. I don’t care about the bad guy, I just care how he is caught. I was therefore pleasantly surprised by Lauren Beukes’ novel, which splits its narrative primarily between two main protagonists – a time travelling, Depression-era serial killer and his only surviving victim – without ever losing its grip on the attention.

Obviously any book that has time travel as one of its main themes is never going to be straightforward, and if you like your plots strictly linear this isn’t the book for you. Like The Time Traveller’s Wife, it expects you to keep track of several characters across several different times but, like that book, it rewards your perseverance, here giving you  a meaty story of survival, an engaging, if understandably damaged heroine and a genuinely creepy killer. Beukes is also at pains for none of the victims – the shining girls of the title – to be simply bodies; they all have their own stories, small triumphs and tragedies that make their deaths sorely felt.

Given the central premise, a degree of suspension of disbelief is required, and Beukes never explains the existence of the mysterious House that facilitates the killer’s travels, or gives any wider sense of purpose to his ‘mission’. Fans of her earlier work may miss her richly imagined world building and the vivid South African backdrops she previously favoured, here abandoned for a slightly generic vision of America that, while well-drawn, inevitably feels like a well-trodden landscape. But a tightly paced plot, elegant prose and an original idea beautifully executed make this a treat for crime fans willing to try something a little different.

Tracey Sinclair’s second novel in the Cassandra Bick Chronicles series, Wolf  Night, was self-published earlier this year and can be purchased here.

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