Lauren Beukes is a good writer and she tells very powerful stories that are meticulously researched (as far as I can tell) and she doesn’t cut corners. Her real ability, at least in this book, is her characters. Many of the people we meet in this book are people who we are only going to know for a short time because they are victims of a serial killer. Lauren Beukes brings them to life in a few simple phrases, gives us history and backstory, in a couple paragraphs and makes them wonderful in just a page. That makes it all the more painful when they are murdered viciously and cruelly.
This story is about a serial killer in 1930s Chicago who discovers a house that lets him travel in time. The door will open onto any day over the next sixty years. He uses it to hunt down and kill women whose names he finds written on the walls — names he wrote there himself in his future.
The time travel is not explained, nor does it need to be. It is handled brilliantly and bits and pieces start to untangle as the story goes on until the whole mess becomes a long strand of twisted and convoluted story.
The Shining Girls is also about Kirby, the one who didn’t die. She recovered and devotes her life to finding her killer, the man who can disappear into the past. She follows a trail of frustrating breadcrumbs and misleads — overlooking clues because of their apparent time-disconnect, trying to track a killer that cannot be tracked.
The people are painfully real and the house is creepy beyond words.
I can only recommend this book if you have a high tolerance for cruelty and emotional trauma in fiction. It’s a powerful story and riveting but also painful.