A few days passed, and one bright afternoon while nursing a head cold I gave the book another chance, deciding that I could just skip the horrific passages. And then, written with 12 POVs in the present tense, I could hardly put it down. It's a genius idea: a serial killer driven by his own terrible pathology plus the sinister demands of a spooky house in Englewood, Chicago, spends almost 7 decades hunting his victims: the "shining girls." All of these girls are filled with potential, and all but one are destined to be stalked and die a grisly death at the hand of Harper Curtis, who disappears into another era leaving behind nothing but small, puzzling artifacts. The group of victims is an odd cross-section of historic icons: a biologist, a social worker, a cross-dresser, a Rosie-the Riveter type, and a "radium girl," among others. The radium dancer is a clever device: shining too brightly is fatal in Harper's dark world.
|"Radium Dancers" were entertainers who painted themselves with radium for a glowing effect. Image from Vintage Photos.|
And then there is Kirby Mazrachi, who survives Harper's attack (thanks to the heroics of her poor dog, who dies in the act, because it's an awful rule that all dogs have to die sad deaths in every book ever written.) Kirby hunts back. Her sidekick, Dan Velasquez, a sportswriter for the Chicago Sun-Times makes a good partner in her unlikely quest.
In the end, The Shining Girls wasn't the slasher-novel I feared, but an original take on the tried-and-true crime novel. If I were to change anything about this book it would be:
1. Let Kirby's dog live; there is certainly carnage enough.
2. Illustrate it with vintage pics of the Chicago neighborhoods and landmarks that all play a part.
3. Allow me to like something about the sociopath Harper Curtis. I prefer my villains to be confusing.
There was a bidding war between publishers when Beukes-who is from South Africa- first released a partial manuscript in 2011. It's kind of funny that Harper Collins won out with its high 6-figure amount, because the name "Harper" will never be quite the same after reading this book. I hope they don't make a movie out of "The Shining Girls," but it seems inevitable. Books with trailers like this seem to attract film options:
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