The Shining Girls

Book cover: The Shining GirlsScifi meets crime as a time-travelling serial killer hunts his victims across the 20th century, and the girl that gets away tries to unravel the mystery of her attacker.

It’s like reading Michael Marshall Smith with a female lead; it had me at hello, in spite of the squicky POV of psychopath Harper Curtis and always divisive first person narrative.

The success for me here is many-fold, from great prose (in spite of that first person!) and a carefully woven plot through to colourful characters, starting with its villain, who gets fully half the page-time POV: at no point does Beukes try to explain, rationalise, normalise or apologise for Harper. He’s just a monster. In spite of this, his POV chapters are compelling. Disturbing, absolutely, and horrific – but never titillating. It’s very carefully controlled.

At the same time, she gives us brief windows into the victim’s lives. In these glimpses, the women come vibrantly to life, full-formed and three-dimensional – each one becomes a tragedy in her own right and a tiny window into her own time (and the role / concerns of women of her time), not just a statistic (with the exception of poor Julia, whose murder happens off the page).

And then there’s spiky, indomitable Kirby herself, who survives her murder and refuses to be deterred from trying to hunt down her impossible attacker. Kirby rejects her physical and emotional damage; it’s the rest of the world that can’t leave her baggage at the door. She’s bright, feisty and she shines – it’s not hard to see why she makes Harper’s list.

It’s taken me a while to get round to reading Beukes in spite of hearing many good things, but I’ll be back for more.