Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls is a thrilling summer read that mashes up several genres into a propulsive narrative that never flags or becomes too enamored with itself. The story is a twist on the standard serial killer plot. We meet Harper, a sociopathic loner living in Depression-era Chicago who stumbles across a mysterious house that has doors into the city spanning the twentieth century. For reasons never fully explained, the house uses Harper as its instrument to kill several young women across time. We also meet Kirby, a college-age woman in early-90s Chicago who is the only person to survive one of Harper’s attacks. She is obsessed with finding her assailant and, thanks to an internship at the Sun-Times, begins piecing together the strange connections that link her with the other victims.
The plot may seem outlandish, but Beukes grounds it with rich characterizations. The inner dialogues of her characters are some of the best writing I’ve seen in recent years. Her meticulous research also pays off in vivid depictions of Chicago across the years. The ending left me a bit frustrated because I wanted more of an explanation for the book’s terrible events. But by not giving the reader a pat conclusion, the book leaves a more lasting impression.