Throwback Thursday : The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Throwback Thursday, is a new feature created by Tenacious Reader with the aim of  highlighting books from your reading past. This can be virtually anything, a book that you previously read and loved, a book that you want to highlight again, maybe it’s a book in a series and the next book is due out shortly so you want to focus some attention on the series.   Anything goes – so long as your book isn’t a current release as there are already plenty of ways to highlight the latest books.  

The book I’d like to shine the spotlight on this week is : The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes.  This is an author that I really like.  The books of hers that I’ve read have been simply amazing, dark and imaginative.  I haven’t read all her books and that is something that I need to address but for today I’m going with The Shining Girls, difficult to believe that this was published in 2013 – I wonder if it’s due for a reread!  A book that brings to us a time travelling serial killer.  This is a dark read but it’s also absolutely compelling read and I couldn’t put it down.

The shining girlsThe Girl Who Wouldn’t Die Hunts the Killer Who Shouldn’t Exist

The future is not as loud as war, but it is relentless. It has a terrible fury all its own.

Harper Curtis is a killer who stepped out of the past. Kirby Mazrachi is the girl who was never meant to have a future.

Kirby is the last shining girl, one of the bright young women, burning with potential, whose lives Harper is destined to snuff out after he stumbles on a House in Depression-era Chicago that opens on to other times.

At the urging of the House, Harper inserts himself into the lives of the shining girls, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He’s the ultimate hunter, vanishing into another time after each murder, untraceable-until one of his victims survives.

Determined to bring her would-be killer to justice, Kirby joins the Chicago Sun-Times to work with the ex-homicide reporter, Dan Velasquez, who covered her case. Soon Kirby finds herself closing in on the impossible truth . . .

The Shining Girls is a masterful twist on the serial killer tale: a violent quantum leap featuring a memorable and appealing heroine in pursuit of a deadly criminal.



Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Just finished reading Zoo City by Lauren Beukes which I loved.  I recently read the Shining Girls by this author and on the strength of that novel went to look at her past work and boy was this book worth it!

This story has so much going for it.  It’s set in an alternative world to ours.  Familiar enough for us to easily recognise and fall comfortably into the reading of and yet different enough to contain black magic, familiars and other strangeness.  Urban fantasy at it’s best with a great, if flawed, central character.  A murder mystery that will take you where you didn’t expect to go and a sinister underworld.

A brief explanation.  Zoo City is set in South Africa.  You could be forgiven for thinking you’ve gone a little bit crazy when you first start to read as a lot of the inhabitants have animal companions, and I’m not talking about a little dog that is dinky enough to fit in your bag.  No, snakes, rhinos, bunnies, birds and even a butterfly.  You sort of do a double take and think ‘what gives’ but just bear with the story and everything will be revealed.  Without the aid of major info dumps the author weaves a story that is compelling to read, original and easy to understand.  We have snippets of newspaper articles, interviews and other tv programme transcripts that give us an insight into exactly what has happened to bring the world to it’s present position.  Basically if you’ve been naughty in this world you ain’t ever going to hide that fact.  Killing somebody comes with a whole new stigma. Killing someone means you become animalled.  This isn’t something that any government has brought to bear as a new punishment.  It’s a strange phenomenon whereby after a murder is committed the murderer will forever after be accompanied by a familiar – linked to the soul maybe and a bit like having a constant reminder of your own guilt not to mention rather like being branded.  Let’s face it, if you’re walking round the streets with a strange animal that seems to have an invisible link to you then everyone pretty much knows you did something really bad!  The other key element to being animalled is that each connection also comes with a strange magical talent.  I must confess that I did think of the Pullman trilogy at first and there is undoubtedly a similarity – even down to the fact that if your familiar dies then so do you and vice versa.  But, this isn’t the same idea and doesn’t feel ripped off.  These animals are magical and bestow a certain ability upon their companion but far from being soft and fluffy the gifts they bestow are more often than not a burden and the fact that you have an animal connected to you spiritually is a major drawback.  Plus these animals come with warts and all and the person they attach themselves to is responsible for them.  You certainly wouldn’t want your familiar to die so if feeding cockroaches or leaves is the order of the day then you better get scouting.

The main character, Zinzi December is a great character to read.  She’s definitely gone off the beaten track.  A former addict, Zinzi is accompanied by a Sloth.  So, clearly, she killed someone!  Her special magical ability is to find lost things and at the start of the story she takes on a job to find a missing ring.  Zinzi sees the missing things which form a thread to the person who lost them and she then simply follows the thread to its end.  Of course it’s not always a nice job as a lot of missing items tend to end up in the sewers but, it is a job.  And Zinzi certainly needs a job.  She owes a massive debt to her former dealer and as a result, alongside her poorly paid ‘lost and found’ job, she works scams for him conning those gullible enough to part with their hard earned cash.  Okay, Zinzi isn’t an angel.  Fortunately she also doesn’t fall into the rather two dimensional trap of kick ass ninja female.  She carries a bulging suitcase of guilt and although she does bad things she’s not quite callous enough not to care.  She’s just in a very bad place and surrounded by very bad people and is trying to change.  Streetwise and quick witted she has a bit of a foul mouth but is equally as quick witted.  I couldn’t help liking her to be honest and even more, liking her familiar, a sloth that she carries around on her back like a back pack.  Sloth, which also happens to be his name, has a great little character of his own.  A wild animal he may be but he’s cute at times, charming, sometimes timid and the interaction he has with Zinzi, occasionally slapping or biting people who try to get too close or trying to pull her away from things that frighten him, is excellently done and helps to give you a better understanding of what is actually going on with these people and their familiars.

Zinzi lives in Zoo City, a sort of ghetto full of animalled people.  No pun intended but it’s a dog eat dog existence although having said that some of the people do build a sort of bond.  Zinzi herself has a relationship with  Benoit – himself a tough character who we eventually find out has had a really hard life.  He’s animalled also and scarred both mentally and physically.  Again, although he plays a small part, and although he also isn’t an angel I liked reading about him.

Now I don’t want to paint this out to be gloomy.  It certainly is a gritty story, it has a few grisly murders and alongside that takes a bit of a look at politics and segregation and the way society behaves and it isn’t difficult to see why Beukes used South Africa as the setting which lends itself so perfectly to the story.

I’m not going to elaborate further.  Zinzi basically takes on a missing person’s job.  She doesn’t usually do missing persons and once you’ve read this story you’ll realise why although the final outcome was not what I expected at all.

I was totally gripped with this book.  I liked the way Beukes writes.  She completely draws you in and I think she’s come up with a brilliant concept.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Just finished reading the Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes.  The Shining Girls is a story of time travel and murder!  It’s a great concept and I was excited to pick it up.

The story contains two main characters.  Harper, a drifter who has a natural proclivity towards violence which finds him at the beginning of the book being chased by a pack of angry men intent on teaching him a lesson.  Kirby, survivor of a brutal murder attempt whose world has been turned upside down as a result and who believes her would be murderer to be a serial killer.

At the start of the story Harper unwittingly comes across the key to a house that enables him to travel through time.  The shabby exterior of the house belies the interior which provides a more than comfortable home for Harper as he jumps between time seeking the ‘shining’ girls that have been chosen for him by the house.  Harper is indeed a serial killer and with the discovery of time travel he has found the way to be a perfect killer.

Kirby is a good character to read.  In spite of the horrendous attack she survived she is determined to remain strong.  Of course it’s difficult to lead a normal life as most people now view her as something as a freak show at worst and curiosity at best.  Kirby joins a newspaper team as an intern.  She is obsessed with finding her would-be murderer and the newspaper archives provide a wealth of material about past stabbing victims.

This story has huge scope and I really do think it’s an intriguing premise.  Fortunately the author made the choice to restrict the time travel to a certain period jumping mainly between the 1930s to the 1990s otherwise this would have become to wide to be interesting in the way intended.

In terms of characters.  Harper is a ruthless character.  He really is quite vile and the way he jumps back and forth stalking his victims and giving them mementos before he jumps ahead to perpetrate his crime is really quite chilling.  In fact it takes stalking to a whole other level and I confess here and now that this book made me rethink certain walking routes on my way home!  I think what adds to the level of horror in this story is that in spite of the supernatural element brought by a time travelling house the whole serial killer storyline feels real.  You sort of read it with a growing but gripping horror.  It’s like watching a disaster or a train wreck.  You can’t watch it but you also can’t ‘not’ watch it (double negative I know but I just had to!)

The girls that Harper kills are chosen by the house.  You could say that these are randomly chosen but I don’t particularly think that’s the case.  All of them seem to have something to offer to society and it seems to be this that makes them ‘shine’ with potential.  Other than that it’s a mystery why the house chooses these particular girls.  I wondered if the whole concept of the house was determined by the character of the person who found it’s secret.  Certainly the previous occupant seems to give an indication that that might be the case.  It’s almost like the author has taken the phrase  ‘be careful what you wish for’ and manipulated it.  I remember reading in another story about an object that grants wishes but the wishes were always distorted and never failed but to bring misery.  And similarly in this case the house takes your desires or inner secrets and character and twists them to a horrible extent, magnifying them and almost making the inhabitant insane in the process.  Harper’s was already a violent character with little respect for human life even before he came across the House.  The House merely picked this trait and used it to satisfy Harper’s own desires but in a way that created more of a monster than he was previously capable of being.

On top of that is the whole time travel theme.  I wouldn’t say this is greatly delved into but nevertheless you can’t help but be sucked into the whole ‘chicken or egg’ first dilemma.  If you read the book you’ll understand what I mean.  Did Harper find the house as a result of blind luck or did he himself, as a future version, lay the tracks for finding the house!  It’s one of those little niggles that will keep you thinking long after you put the book down with a whole series of ‘what ifs’.

I think Beukes has quite a compelling writing style.  She manages in just a few short pages to give you the essence of the girls that have been chosen and to provide them with their own identity and character.  None of them are similar.  They seem to come from all walks of life.

Kirby and Dan, the reporter who takes her on as intern, are likeable characters.  Dan, I suppose could be seen as a bit of a cliche.  A bit bitter.  Divorced, formerly a homicide reporter but now travelling the country and reporting on baseball as his health and family life was too greatly affected by his former duties.  He develops feelings for Kirby which in a way I was glad of.  There isn’t really a romance although the ending leaves that open but I was glad that Kirby seemed to finally find someone who didn’t want to look into the goldfish bowl of her life and was actually interested in her as a person.

Now, I will just warn you that if you’re a bit squeamish then this might not be for you.  The murders are a bit shocking and grisly to say the least and you read them with one eye shut – if I hadn’t been reading in my lunch break or during travel to and from work I probably would have been holding a cushion in front of my face as well.

In terms of criticisms well there is of course the fact that as you read about each of these characters you have the inevitable feeling of doom as you know what’s coming their way.  So, yes, not exactly cheerful or upbeat.  I also experienced a slight lull about half way through which I think was as a result of the above – it’s difficult to be drawn into liking a character or having interest and sympathy with their life if you know already what their ending will be.  You experience this whole thing of ‘what’s the point in liking her’.  It’s not the way you start off of course.  You start off liking the girls but as the story progresses rather than actually liking them you’re reading ahead with a sense of impending doom and you start to view them all as dead before you started.  You’re almost reading just to witness their ending which is a bit uncomfortable in a way, and definitely if you’ve developed a liking for them. What does bring this around however is the way Kirby pursues Harper.  Part of you has a feeling of ‘no way can she find him’.  Yet you have to read on to find out.  More to the point, is she still safe?  She may have survived but the murderer can of course travel back and forth.  I think some people may want more detail about the nature of the house but I didn’t particularly feel that the lack of detail detracted.  I had my own views about what was happening and why.  And on top of this I appreciated the simplicity of the ideas and the fact that the author doesn’t overload the story with complicated notions about what’s happening.  I have an imagination and I’m not afraid to use it!

On the whole I thought this was a good story, a really original concept and a compelling read and as a result I will definitely look back at other works by this author.

I bought this book but also received a copy from Net Galley in exchange for a honest review.