Dexter Meets Nancy Drew
Harper Curtis squats in a house, the owner dead and rotting in the hallway. In his pocket he finds a key. When he uses the key in the front door, he is taken to whatever time he imagines. He returns later to bludgeon the owner, thus coming full circle in the timeline. Harper travels through time looking for his “shining girls”, girls that emit an aura-like light that he alone can see. He finds them as children, making contact with them when he does, promising to return again, sometime in the future. When he finds them as adults, he brutally slays them, leaving with them a souvenir from a previous kill. The book opens with Harper gifting Kirby a small, plastic horse, years before the date left behind by the mould on the bottom off the horse’s foot. He returns later to murder Kirby, but unbeknownst to Harper, she survives and devotes most of her adult life to bringing Harper to justice. Harper’s hubris in leaving behind these anachronistic souvenirs is what eventually helps Kirby orchestrate his undoing.
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes is part Dexter’s evil twin, part grown-up Nancy Drew in the perfect combination. It’s been a while since I’ve read a page-turner, and The Shining Girls is a mesmerizing one at that. Beukes’ prose is literary and compelling. Her tone is gritty and dark, whether from Harper, the murderer’s, Kirby, the victim’s, or Dan, the reporter’s points of view. Whether depression, disco, or near-twenty-first century, Buekes’ story makes the era come to life. I love time travel as a plot device, but it must be done right. I need to know about the technology that transports the characters from one time to the next. Beukes chooses to make the device a psychic key, of sorts. Beyond the question of how the original owner obtains it (which is told in the final chapter), the reader is too caught up in the lives of the characters to question it’s true origin (i.e., from where or whom it originated in all time and how it got its power), which is a credit to the author, as I thought this would hang me up and sour me on the novel altogether; it didn’t.
Like The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Shining Girls is one of those novels I can see myself returning to in the future (no pun intended) to read and re-read before I am able to grasp all of the subtle nuances of the manuscript. And I will do this with gusto.
About the Author
Elise Abram, English teacher and former archaeologist, has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to write seriously. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back (and may be accessed at @RKLOGYprof). Nearly ten years after its inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and publish PHASE SHIFT on her own.
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