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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What I’m Reading: The Shining Girls

As promised yesterday, I am catching up on reviews this week [after a summer of slacking on that front].

Back in March I read The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. Here is my 30 sec or less conversation starter for this novel:

Soundbite Review: This is the best serial killer book I have ever read. Set in Chicago, it has 2 main narrators and a fluid time frame.  The first narrator is a young woman in the 1990s, the only survivor of a never caught serial killer as she is searching for her attacker.  The second narrator is that serial killer, a man whose present is the 1930s, but who lives in a home on the South Side, a home that is a portal to other times.  Although this may sound confusing, Beukes does an excellent job of letting the reader know where you are in time and space at all moments.  Plus, as the action heats up, the time travel increases, making the story even more suspenseful. This was a satisfying and exciting novel by an author to keep an eye on.

Let me elaborate a bit more on the specific appeal of this book. It is obviously intricately plotted as the above soundbite review mentions, but the layering of time frames and storyline adds to the enjoyment of the mystery here.  Clues emerge in an order that is more satisfying as a reader than a straight timeline would allow. This also keeps the plot moving much quicker than it could have.

On the other hand, while I enjoyed this aspect, I know of many readers who will be upset by the messed up timeline and not enjoy the book for this reason. So when booktalking this backlist title, sharing the time travel is key.

The Shining Girls is also intensely suspenseful, almost painfully so.  Even though we know who the killer is, we are helpless to watch traditional police and investigative reporters [rightfully] fail to consider a time travel solution. We observe young women die at an evil killer’s hand.

And character wise, because we have the 2 narrators, both our heroine and the villain are well developed. We see their motivations and clearly understand where they are coming from.  In true psychological suspense fashion, both are very flawed. and meant to be observed by readers. Specifically our heroine, Kirby, is very strong but very damaged, making her sympathetic only up to a point.

This is a great book for psychological suspense fans who also enjoy horror. It is not for lighter psychological suspense fans like those of Girl on a Train.  The Shining Girls is violent, heart wrenching, and intense, but if you like that sort of thing [like me], you are in for quite a treat.

Three Words That Describe This Book: multiple time lines, psychological suspense, dread

Readalikes: As I was reading The Shining Girls I kept thinking about how similar it was to Dark Places by Gillian Flynn.  Here is the link to my full detailed review of Dark Places, but quickly, both are dark, violent, and intricately plotted psychological suspense novels.  Also while Dark Places is not speculative in anyway, it does consciously layer different time frames to keep the pace moving forward and obscure the mystery a bit. Both are also intensely suspenseful.

Two other darker psychological suspense books that I have read which would be a great suggestion here are Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger and The Darkling by R B Chesterton. You can click on the title for a detailed review of either.

As I mentioned above this is not a readalike for The Girl on the Train, the current bestselling “psychological suspense” novel.  Rather, I think Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy is a better new, psychological suspense readalike here.

Outside the Box Suggestion: This really was the best serial killer book I have read in a long time because of how original it is.  Interestingly, I felt similarly about The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell only as the best and most original zombie book I had  ever read.  These two books share a genre-- psychological suspense, but they are also both unique, intricately plotted works that tip toward literary fiction, but still keep the suspense and action at the forefront. If you liked either, try the other.

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