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Lauren Beukes
The Shining Girls
Mulholland Books / Little, Brown and Company / Hachette Book Groupe
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-316-21685-2
Publication Date: 06-04-2013
375 Pages; $26.00
Date Reviewed: 09-16-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014

Index:  Horror  Mystery  Science Fiction

We do not see much of this world. If we saw more, it might burst our minds. We string together the glimpses that we are afforded and feel immersed. That's good enough. We first meet Harper, a creepy sort of grubbin, giving young Kirby Mazrachi a plastic pony. We instinctively don't like Harper. Older men are not to give young girls toys. It's a bad sign. But in a crafty magic trick, in 'The Shining Girls,' Lauren Beukes shows us more of our world than we might think we'd like to see and makes it engagingly terrifying. For every human terror, there is a human wonder.

Terror takes us in and keeps us mesmerized. Beukes ratchets Harper back to 1931, when he stumbles upon a borderland in the middle of a city. From there, and with the help of place itself, in this case Chicago, Harper embarks on a unique killing spree, inspired and guided to snuff out the lives of girls who offer promise and tragedy to the world. If you've not already been handed the heart of this heavenly novel, consider yourself lucky, and just pick it up. Like revenge, it's best served cold.

Beukes vision of Harper is a grubby, churlish delight. He's not really smart, but he does possess a sort of low cunning. He's ugly and violent and horrific, but Beukes serves up murder scenes that are scary without being luxurious. Harper may be a serial killer, but in order to do so, he has to solve a very unique set of problems. He's a terrible, awful person, unsympathetic but not unengaging. it's a tough line to walk, but Beukes does so without effort.

Beukes' women are another matter; sometimes tragic, sometimes strong and powerful, always evocative of time and place and always assiduously researched to create complex characters who live up to the title. Yes, thet title is very important here. The book is really about women who shine, women who might have had an opportunity to effect huge changes in this world. But the parts of this world we don't see, those we cannot see, those we do not wish to see have an unfortunate effect on these women. Harper is simply a symptom. Happily, and saitisfying, there is a potential cure; Kirby.

Kirby is an almost-vicitm, and her special status helps her put together, with some engaging men in her life, just how an unintelligent low-life like Harper can prey on women who are indeed "the shining girls." Putting together the pieces of the crime and the solution are outstandingly fun, if always nerve rattling. Beukes knows how to craft tension without over-stretching a taut wire. s

For all the terror and wonder and tension to be found here, 'The Shining Girls' does something more than simply one-up the serial killer novel. Beukes has a means of evoking those places and moments between our everyday perceptions of the world. Her prose suggests not just what we see but what we miss, much of it full of wonder. We see people; she sees stories.


 
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