There is a house in Chicago. Inside, something is eerily wrong. It isn’t clear what is wrong, until you enter a room upstairs. A room filled with objects that don’t fit together. Objects from different times – maybe even the future. Harper Curtis, a drifter during the Great Depression, comes across the house with the key shining up from the doorstep. If he focuses on a particular time as he exits, he travels to it.
But the house needs the shining girls – girls who, to Harper, literally shine with potential – as a sacrifice to its powers. The objects in the room upstairs are from the bodies of young women that Harper has killed. But when he travels to the late eighties, he trusts that one girl, Kirby, will die from the wounds he inflicts. She doesn’t.
The Shining Girls is an incredibly imaginative time-travel thriller. Chapters jump through time to focus on different characters, and different narratives are superbly researched, giving an insight into what it must have been like to live in different eras. It brings to mind some of Alan Moore’s work, in that it seems to comment on history while never sacrificing the speed of the plot. And there’s a real darkness (besides the obvious murders) – a segment focuses on a woman trying to get a backstreet abortion before America legalised the operation. Parts like this add a real believability to it; characters may only appear for a few pages, but they’re fully fleshed out, and facing something horrible besides Harper.
Kirby, the main character, is really well written. You don’t always like her, and often her determination to find her attacker makes her do stupid things that the reader will cringe at. But again it only makes her more life-like. For a book containing so much time-travel, Beukes has done an excellent job of maintaining believability. Relationships play out realistically, showing thought processes, and no decisions are made just for the sake of the plot. They all feel real.
There are shocks, laughs, and moments when the reader will wonder how exactly anyone will catch Harper, with his ability to time travel. This is one of the most interesting and thought-out thrillers of recent years, and with Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company recently buying the television rights, hopefully it will find the huge audience it deserves. Read it now so you can feel superior to the latecomers.