Novel: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

There aren’t many genre writers I’m more excited about than Lauren Beukes, and The Shining Girls (2013) rewarded my enthusiasm with another edgy, gripping read. After great early showings with near-future SF (Moxyland) and urban fantasy (Zoo City), here she shifts gears yet again for a dark, time-bending serial murder mystery.

At the height of the Depression, disturbed World War I veteran Harper Curtis discovers a house in Chicago that magically transports him into the future. It’s the start of a time-jumping crime spree, during which he begins ruthlessly murdering the “shining girls” of the title. One his victims is Kirby Mazrachi, who in 1989 barely manages to escape death by his hand, and dedicates herself thereafter to tracking down her assailant. She takes an internship at the Chicago Sun-Times with a former homicide reporter, Dan Velasquez. Together, Kirby and Dan investigate, digging through newspaper archives and police reports in search of the brutal killer whose work impossibly spans decades.

It’s a blazing fast read that ricochets back and forth through time, and Beukes’ handling of the time-travel contortions of her plot is enviably deft. The prose is polished, the structure confident, and the depiction of Chicago throughout several decades of history is vivid and thoroughly convincing. Kirby and Dan are sympathetic, memorable heroes, and Harper is a formidable opponent. It’s another engrossing read from an author who is quickly proving to be one of the field’s most entertaining and versatile.

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