Kemper's Reviews > The Shining Girls

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
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bookshelves: 2013, crime-mystery, sci-fi, serial-killers, time-travel

I was going to fire up the time-mower to do this review, but I was scared I’d bump into a homicidal maniac so I left it in the garage this time.

Harper Curtis is a hobo during the Great Depression in Chicago who makes a miraculous discovery when he gains access to a mysterious house that can transport him into the future up until the early ‘90s. Unfortunately, Harper is a psychopath who starts using names and objects in the house to track and murder women in various times. Harper thinks that the house is leading him to girls who ‘shine’ and that killing them will complete some grand design.

Harper engages in a ritual of meeting a girl as a child, then using the house to go to a time when they’re adults and murder them. He tries this game on Kirby Mazrachi and severely injures her, but she miraculously manages to survive his attack. In 1993, Kirby is a college student who is obsessed with tracking down the man who nearly killed her, and she gets an internship at a newspaper to research similar cases. She convinces a former crime reporter turned sports writer named Dan Velasquez to help with her investigation although he thinks there is little chance of turning anything useful up.

This has got an intriguing premise even if it isn't the first time traveling serial killer story I've heard. Beukes has a distinctive writing style that I generally liked, and Kirby was a strong protagonist although I had a hard time believing that any of her bosses at the newspaper would take the kind of crap she regularly dished out from an intern. Still, I didn’t particularly enjoy this book, and that was mainly because of Harper Curtis.

Harper is certainly crazy and evil enough to make a good villain. His attacks on the women are described in graphic detail and his murder attempt on Kirby was particularly brutal and disturbing. But that’s all there is to him. He’s just a crazy guy with a knife who hates women and nothing else. Any history we get is just meant to reinforce that like a story about him torturing farm animals as a kid. Being able to travel through time makes him scarier, but other than that, he’s no different than any other serial killer that we seen a thousand times in fiction.

Part of this may be some bad timing on my part. I’ve been watching the Hannibal TV series as well as rereading some of the early John Sandford Prey novels which featured plenty of murdering whackos so I think I’ve got a case of serial killer burnout. Whether that influenced me or not, I found Harper’s brand of crazy just tiresome after a while since it was all about getting off on making innocent woman suffer.

Maybe if there had been (view spoiler)

As Trudi pointed out in her review , Kirby’s investigation doesn’t really accomplish much either. (view spoiler)

It’s an interesting blend of crime and sci-fi, but I wish it’d been a little more intriguing on the sci-fi side and had a little less of the typical fictional serial killer on the crime side.
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Reading Progress

June 13, 2013 – Started Reading
June 13, 2013 – Shelved
June 20, 2013 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-26 of 26 (26 new)

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Trudi Very curious to see what you make of this one.


Trudi Whew! I'm relieved. I thought maybe I missed something. Great review and thanks for the shout out.


Kemper Trudi wrote: "Whew! I'm relieved. I thought maybe I missed something. Great review and thanks for the shout out."

I'm in the Liked-It-Didn't-Love-It camp. You brought up an excellent point in your review that really jumped out at me when I got the end of this.


Brandon Kemper wrote: "I was going to fire up the time-mower to do this review, but I was scared I’d bump into a homicidal maniac so I left it in the garage this time."

I glanced at this review, saw Time-Mower and got really excited. However, your reasons for not using it are valid. Great review!


Robert "I was going to fire up the time-mower to do this review, but I was scared I’d bump into a homicidal maniac so I left it in the garage this time."

What a great opening line.


message 6: by Pat (new) - added it

Pat C. This is sort of beside the point but I get real tired of writers torturing animals as a way to portray the evil nature of their villains. I just read an old CJ Box novel where the bad guy FBI agent skins rabbits alive and broadcasts their screams over an intercom. I don’t think it’s very creative. The same character also plays Wayne Newton singing “Danke Schoen” repeatedly at increasing decibels. Now to me that is truly terrifying. Anyway I'm glad to know about that the animal torture in Shining Girls so I can avoid reading it.


message 7: by Pat (new) - added it

Pat C. Good review (as usual) by the way. Love the comments. You and Trudi Stafford should have a radio show or something.


message 8: by Kemper (last edited Jun 26, 2013 04:25AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kemper Pat wrote: "This is sort of beside the point but I get real tired of writers torturing animals as a way to portray the evil nature of their villains. I just read an old CJ Box novel where the bad guy FBI agent..."

I could have lived without the animal deaths too. Kill a couple of dozen people and it's all just another day of reading crime fiction, but there's a some very disturbing parts involving a couple of kinds of animals and even an insect that really made me shudder.


message 9: by Kemper (last edited Jan 27, 2014 01:56PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kemper Pat wrote: "Good review (as usual) by the way. Love the comments. You and Trudi Stafford should have a radio show or something."

I completely agree, and if there are any radio producers out there, don't let our complete lack of experience keep you from signing Trudi and I to our own Sirius radio show. (It'd have to be Sirius or the FCC fines for cursing would bankrupt us in a week.)


Trudi Kemper wrote: "Pat wrote: "It'd have to be Sirius or the FCC fines for cursing would bankrupt us in a week.) ."

We have to be able to drink on the job and declare "whoremaster" as we see fit.


message 11: by Aimee (new) - added it

Aimee Off topic, I just wanted to say I love your profile pic of Sterling Archer


message 12: by Mara (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mara So, is this one a skip or a go in with low expectations? Between your and Trudi's reviews I can't help but feel like the premise is just so tempting, but reactions so, well, middling...


message 13: by Kemper (last edited Jan 27, 2014 09:59AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kemper Mara wrote: "So, is this one a skip or a go in with low expectations? Between your and Trudi's reviews I can't help but feel like the premise is just so tempting, but reactions so, well, middling..."

It's a tough call. It's not a terrible book, and if you've got a burning desire to read about a time traveling serial killer with no personality murdering innocent women in the most graphic ways possible, then this is the one for you. But I didn't feel like it delivered on the cooler aspects of its premise.


message 14: by Mara (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mara "if you've got a burning desire to read about a time traveling serial killer with no personality murdering innocent women in the most graphic ways possible"
I feel like if that's the case, then I have bigger problems on my hands...


Kemper Mara wrote: ""I feel like if that's the case, then I have bigger problems on my hands...

Hey, I'm not judging....


Trudi Kemper wrote: "Hey, I'm not judging...."

Yeah, only because you just described yourself.

@Mara: I wouldn't bother. Really.


Kemper Trudi wrote: "
Yeah, only because you just described yourself."


That's never been proven in court!


Trudi Yeah, but I have pictures. So tread lightly.


Kemper Trudi wrote: "Yeah, but I have pictures. So tread lightly."

I would advise you to read some hard boiled crime novels and take note of what usually happens to would-be blackmailers. I'm just sayin'......


message 20: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan Schwent Would you say 2.99 is a good price for this? I'm interested in it but I don't know if I'm 2.99 interested in it.


Kemper Dan wrote: "Would you say 2.99 is a good price for this? I'm interested in it but I don't know if I'm 2.99 interested in it."

I don't think it'd be worth more than a library check out to me, but I know some liked it more than I did.


message 22: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan Schwent But you're right about everything except Wool?!?!


Diane If I may chime in here, Dan, this book is NOT worth $2.99. Save your pennies, my friend. However, if you want to have fun writing a negative review, then maybe it is worth the coins...


Kemper Dan wrote: "But you're right about everything except Wool?!?!"

I'm trying to be more humble.

And I'm right about Wool, too.


message 25: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan Schwent I'd rather have the money and the reading time, I think.


message 26: by Chip (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chip Agreed completely (unfortunately didn't read this review before reading the book).


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