The Shining Girls
By Lauren Beukes, read by Khristine Hvam, Peter Ganim, Jay Snyder, Joshua Boone, Dani Cervone, and Jenna Hellmuth
Length 10 hours, 36 minutes
The Shining Girls is like the Magic Tree House from hell, where we trade a magical portal of benevolent discovery for the sinister house Harper Curtis discovers – house that feeds him with the names of victims he’s destined to brutally murder. A Prohibition-era drifter all too ready to except his fate, Harper skips through 20th century Chicago, tearing through these Shining Girls like a horrific modern-day Jack the Ripper.
Lauren Beukes has a gift for prose. She makes the words and dialogue slash and sparkle like sharp, moonlit blades. And she builds solid, compelling characters in Kirby – the sole victim who survived Harper’s attacks – and Dan, a burned out newspaper reporter, and each of the Shining Girls. For better or for worse, the majority of our time is uncomfortably spent with Harper, and the women he slaughters. I often found myself wanting to get back to Kirby and Dan as they worked together, because they had such great rapport, and were easy to route for, despite their flaws. I’m not sure I’d call Harper compelling, exactly. He’s unflinchingly written as a monster, one who seems human enough on surface, but one who is all evil beneath. Credit where credit is due – Buekes thankfully never romanticizes him, or makes him anything shy of monstrous. But it always felt like a chore to come back to his bloody narrative.
As a result, I can’t say I loved this book. I knew it was going to be disturbing going into it, and it became pretty emotionally devastating to be introduced to each of the Shining Girls – Harper’s eventual victims – dripping with lavish period detail and characterization, only to have them horrifically killed off within the next twenty minutes. Maybe that’s the point – to give faces to the faceless victims of time, who were taken from us long before they should have been, to provide us with an unflinching portrait of these women. But all the gruesome violence against these characters worked against it in the long run. When another woman appears who is fated by Beukes and Harper to die a gristly death, it becomes difficult to become too invested in them, and instead, they become less than characters.
The narration assembled by Hachette is nothing short of impressive. Khristine Hvam nails Kirby’s obsessive, jaded, survivor. Jay Snyder plays reporter Latino reporter Dan, which is a bit of white-washed casting, but as long as Snyder isn’t speaking Spanish, he does a nice job, and he and Kirby are very easy to root for. As Harper Curtis, Ganim is completely unnerving. I’m pretty sure I flinched whenever a chapter started from his POV (and I mean this as a compliment). Harper’s Victims – the Shining Girls themselves – were expertly done by the rest of the supporting cast.
The Shining Girls isn’t the masterpiece I know Beuekes will one day give us, and it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. But it’s a solid horror novel that strives to be great.
Special thanks to Hachette Audio for providing me with a review copy of this audiobook.