This is my first experience with Lauren Beukes. The blurbs on all of her books sound super exciting, but this particular book would not have been my first choice if my library had had some of her other books readily available (Moxyland is the one I really want to read).
Blurb (from GoodReads): In Depression-era Chicago, Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens on to other times. But it comes at a cost. He has to kill the shining girls: bright young women, burning with potential. Curtis stalks them through their lives across different eras until, in 1989, one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives and starts hunting him back.
I wanted to read this based on the time period (yes to all things Capone era Chicago) and the idea of Kirby stalking her killer back. I was hoping for something more like Peppermint:
I wanted a thrilling cat and mouse game. What I got was:
Except Kirby is not really as entertaining as Ace Ventura. When the blurb says “hunting him back,” what it means is, she ‘digs through cold case police files, interviews victim’s families, and tries to establish a pattern.’ She is not literally hunting him.
The format this book follows reminds me a lot of Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes. The identity of the killer is known from page one. The issue is Harper Curtis isn’t really as compelling a villain as Brady Hartsfield. His chapters weren’t all that exciting. You already know what his goal is. He doesn’t do much to surprise you. There’s no mystery to solve.
And without there being a mystery to solve- there’s not much else to sell this story. The House and the time travel pieces felt gimmicky. *Possible mild spoiler* The Shining Girls are just normal girls. They aren’t magic. They aren’t destined to save the world. Killing them is not prevent some all important wonderful thing from happening. Without there being anything significant about them, the House just feels like a gimmick so that Beukes can dazzle us all with the circle she draws in the timeline.
Listen- the timeline thing is nifty. Really, Beukes did a great job with it. But when it didn’t serve any greater purpose in the story I was left asking myself what the point of it was. Nothing about the House is really explained. There are no rules. Neither of the two (three?) MCs are particularly compelling.
Almost every other character was far more interesting. The Shining Girls. Kirby’s mother Rachel… I sighed with relief every time one of their chapters popped up. I particularly adored Alice’s story, but they just weren’t enough.
I think I’d have appreciated this more as a science fiction mystery than a science fiction thriller. I like it when books keep me guessing. When Kirby starts discovering clues and putting the pieces together, I would have loved to have been kept guessing about these different clues. How they fit together, what the answer is. Have the House and the time travel aspect be some crazy weird twist that was revealed closer to the end than in the beginning.
It’s not a bad book by any means. The writing was great. And while Harper Curtis is not going to go down as one of my most memorable villains of all time, he’s pretty creepy. There are a couple chapters that will make you cringe. Sometimes genre benders work. They feel fresh and new and exciting. In this case the book waffled too much. It wanted to be a thriller, it wanted to be time travel, it wanted to be an amateur detective story with the protagonist solving the clues, and the overall effect fell a little flat for me.
Anyway, I intend to try some of Beukes other work and hope for better results. I can see that she’s smart, and technically a great writer, I just hope the rest of the blurbs aren’t as misleading as this one was.