I’ve lately been having a weird obsession with murder and true crime. I’m not really sure what spurred it on, but it seems like all at the same time I started listening to the “My Favorite Murder” podcast (which is wonderful), started watching that crazy OJ Simpsons: Made in America documentary, and started reading the novel that I’m here to talk about. I don’t know why this just so happened to converge on my life, but it’s been a fascinating couple of weeks. I used to be really obsessed with the idea of crime and serial killers, which is what inspired me to get my bachelor in criminology, which is doing me a lot of good in real-life, but it was fascinating and fun. There’s just something about criminals and serial killer that intrigues me, and a lot of other people since we devote so much of our media to talking about them. It’s ridiculous how many true-crime television shows are on at any given moment. But hey, they’re fascinating. I think people are always interested in stories about people that go against society, and do something heinous, while getting a smug sense of superiority with the knowledge that we wouldn’t go on a murderous rampage like these people. But that’s enough psychobabble, let’s finish off this preamble and get into the meat of the Shining Girls.
The premise of this novel was fascinating to me. I would call it either science fiction or fantasy, but I’m sure people prefer ridiculous terms like “magical realism” or something, and it’s all about time-travel. But not just normal time-travel, it’s a time-traveling serial killer. Which is certainly something that I haven’t experienced. Other than Time After Time I suppose, that crazy movie where Jack the Ripper steals HG Wells’ time machine and goes to the 1980’s to kill people, which if you haven’t watched that movie, check it the hell out. Anyway, the novel follows two characters, Harper Curtis and Kirby Mazrachi. Harper is a drifter from Depression-era Chicago who comes across a mysterious house that can travel through time based on willpower. And when he stumbles into the house, he realizes that he suddenly has a burning desire to kill women through time that have a lot of potential. There’s also a lot of time-loops going on, because when he first gets into the house he basically finds the list of women he needs to kill, made by him from the future, and gets to work.
But this isn’t just a novel about a monster traveling through time and killing innocent women in Chicago, because that would get bleak as hell, really quick. Instead, we’re introduced to Kirby Mazrachi, a woman who was supposed to be one of Harper’s victims. However, Harper botched the killing, and Kirby survived, only to dedicate her life to solving her attempted murder. So he gets a job at a newspaper, starts working with a reporter named Dan who now covers sports and used to cover crimes, including her attempted murder, and starts trying to track down Harper, not yet realizing that he’s a time-traveler. The rest of the novel alternates between Harper killing women throughout time and Kirby gradually getting closer and closer to the truth while a relationship starts to grow between her and Dan the reporter. And in the end, the two plots converge and we get a crazy tense scene where Dan and Kirby finally find Harper’s evil house and have a battle that spits them out in a couple different time’s, until the heroes win, and the villain is vanquished, completing the insane time-loop that the book has created.
I really dug this book. It got a tad procedural at times, feeling like a particularly weird detective television pilot, but overall I really liked it. It was a good serial killer story, and one that didn’t glorify or deify the killer, which is shockingly a rarity.I don’t really know why, but so many serial killer stories seem to think that the killer is a really intelligent and cool person, but this book made Harper the type of sleazy creep who actually commits killings. Kirby could be a tad annoying at time, but I really liked her central story, investigating her own attempted murder and trying to piece together the mystery while figuring out all the weird anachronistic elements of the killings. The time travel gimmick was really well done, and it made for a very twisty and strange story that could have easily fallen apart. If the novel had been crated in a more straight-forward manner, I probably wouldn’t have thought of it so highly, but as it stands I liked it quite a bit. So if you like serial killer stories, or time-travel ones, I would recommend checking this one out, because it sure was an interesting time.
The Shining Girls was written by Lauren Beukes, 2013.