Paper Plane Reviews

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Category: Mystery Page 1 of 7

White Night by Jim Butcher

After the mind-screw that was The Automation and The Pre-Programming, it was nice to rest my brain with something a bit more familiar. And after enjoying the last book in the Dresden Files so much, I was keen to see how it continues.

White Night starts when Murphy summons him to the site of a suicide that just doesn’t strike her as quite right. When he realises that this is actually a sophisticated murder and that she was a minor magical practitioner, he finds himself on the trail of a supernatural serial killer. Which may possibly be his half-brother, Thomas. On top of that, he has a hard time getting other potential victims to trust him, when it is revealed that the murderer has been seen, an unidentified tall man in a grey Warden’s cloak.
I think this is the closest to a crime thriller that the Dresden Files has felt in a long time, and I absolutely loved it. While it does have some of the heavy political stuff that has complicated the narrative, as to be expected at volume 9 of a series, the majority of it is a cat and mouse game, trying to figure out who is innocent and who needs to be taken care of in a big ball of fire.
Additionally, there is a lot of great character stuff. Thomas gets a fair bit of focus, with Harry having to finally face the question of how his brother has been feeding without turning into a monster, or whether that is even possible. Harry’s ex Elaine turns up again, trying to turn over a new leaf by following in Harry’s footsteps as a detective and helping people with less magical potential. Molly gets a whole bunch of development as she keeps turning up at places that she shouldn’t, and having to deal with the consequences of her brashness. And, my favourite and the one that really caught me off guard, Lasciel, the shadow of a Denerian stuck in Harry’s head. I really liked this development, specifically because it answers the question of how much effort can she put into trying to tempt Harry to the dark side without it become an exercise in futility. As he says early on, she’s been trying to convince him to access the full power of the coin for years now, where previous hosts only needed a few weeks of temptation. In previous books, it had been one of those questions that was interesting, but ultimately not important in the moment, but there was only so long that you could feasibly keep the status quo going before you want some closure on the damn coin. So that was kind of answered here, which was unexpected but nice.

A thoroughly entertaining cat and mouse game with great stakes and some genuinely creepy antagonists. The character development was also on point, with special mention going to Lasciel. Really looking forward to how the series progresses from here. 5/5

Next review: The Narrows by Travis M. Riddle

Signing off,
Nisa.

Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher

It’s been a long while since I read a Dresden Files book, and I was quite looking forward to it. While I’ve been really enjoying the stuff that I’ve gotten from TBRindr, it’ll be nice to get to a book that I’ve chosen for myself that I actually finish now.

Proven Guilty starts with Harry attending an execution as part of his duties as a Warden of the White Council, a situation that disgusts him whilst still being the necessary course of action. Whilst in attendance, he is given two tasks by members of the Council. First, by his former master Ebenezer McCoy, he is asked to look into why the Sidhe aren’t reacting to Red Court vampires trespassing in their territory during raids on the White Council. Second, by the mysterious Gatekeeper, who gives him a general hint to look out for black magic. Whilst looking into these, he is dragged into looking after his friend Michael’s daughter, Molly, while she is at a horror movie convention and perhaps persuading her and her mother to make up after a series of blazing, teenage-rebellion-fuelled rows. But Molly may have some link to the black magic, as a series of magical attacks start befalling the convention attendees.
As you can probably tell by the time it took to finish Proven Guilty, this one was a bit of a slow start for me. This is most probably not entirely down to the book, but also down to the time since my last foray into the Dresden Files. It took me a little while to get back into that mindset and remember what factions are in play, who is feuding with who, and how many of them want Harry’s guts for garters. At the eighth entry, the Dresden Files is a fairly complex series which, judging by some of the conclusions reached at the end of Proven Guilty, is only going to get more complicated. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be a lot to take on initially. By the end I was absolutely devouring it, so it’s certainly not a huge impediment.
So there are two big changes, both to previously established characters. First of all, and most prominently, is Molly, the daughter of my least favourite character Michael Carpenter. Whereas in previous entries she was an adorably precocious and cheeky pre-teen, she’s almost grown up now. And boy did she hit the teenage rebellion button like it had personally offended her. She’s now pierced and tattooed in places her parents would rather she hadn’t discovered, with hair dyed in shades of cotton candy, having also dropped out of school and hanging around with the wrong crowd. It’s an entertaining shift to say the least, and not entirely surprising given the oh-so-holy nature of the family before now. It was, however, the second change in character that caught me more off-guard and I was really pleasantly surprised. Charity, Michael’s wife, had up to this point been more of an annoyance than anything, providing little more than unprovoked aggression towards Harry for little things like breathing and existing. Well, turns out that she had a reason and goddamn if it doesn’t make you reconsider all her behaviour until now. And she gets a chance to kick ass and take names, nailing it with far more aplomb than I could have expected.

After seven entries, there is a lot to remind yourself of when you start Proven Guilty, but it shouldn’t be a big issue. The stars of this entry into the series are Molly and Charity, who outshine Michael by absolute leagues. And the hint of something much bigger in the background is intriguing. 4.5/5

Next review: The Blighted City by Scott Kaelen

Signing off,
Nisa.

Mystery Man by Colin Bateman

Honestly, when I picked up Mystery Man, I was really excited because the blurb described what I imagined my life would be like if I somehow had my dream bookshop and a stronger sense of curiosity that would overpower my inherent laziness. And it had been sitting on my shelf for quite some time, so there seemed no better time for it.

When the private investigator’s office next door to the crime-fiction bookshop, No Alibis, closes down, the owner of the bookshop finds himself being approached by the clients of his former neighbour who hope that he might be able to help. Having little better to do, and hoping that the cases will garner the attention of the jewellery shop attendant from across the road that he has a crush on, he decides to look into a few of them.
So I guess 2018 must be the year of DNFs, because I couldn’t convince myself to finish this. And this actually shares a similarity with my previous DNF, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I didn’t mention this in the body of my review, but in that previous case, I stopped shortly after a section where the narrator is repeatedly calling his younger brother a retard. Quite frankly, I have no time for people who, in trying to be clever, resort to cheap insults against a traditionally subjugated group. I had the same reaction with Mystery Man. In this case, I’d been mildly amused by some of the japes that the narrator had gotten himself into, but hadn’t really been hooked yet, when the narrative reached the proper introduction to the narrator’s jewellery shop crush. She turns up late to the “how-to-write” course being hosted by a snobbish literary writer who “dabbles” in crime fiction whilst still earning disgustingly high profit margins. He gets her to do a writer’s exercise where she creates stories for the passersby that she sees through the shop window, and tells her to stop after she describes one person as a cripple. He states, quite rightly, that cripple is not really appropriate language, at which point she launches into a tirade, in which she defends her choice of the word cripple in favour of disabled or paralysed. And this is treated like it’s a good thing. The narrator is sitting in his shop, proudly listening as she vomits out this utter garbage and puts off the guest writer. As I was preparing for writing this review, I did briefly worry about coming across as too sensitive, but fuck it, this is where I draw the line. It wouldn’t be acceptable if she were defending the use of a racial epithet, so why should it be acceptable with disabled slurs.

I was briefly enjoying this until the narrator’s love interest decided that her pride was more important than accepting that disabled slurs are not acceptable in polite society, and the narration expects me to be perfectly okay with this. I’m not. 1/5

Next review: The Silver Mask by Christian Ellingsen

Signing off,
Nisa.

Balam, Spring by Travis M. Riddle

So Balam, Spring was another book kindly sent to me by the author via TBRindr. While I’d not come across the title before, I liked the premise and thought that the whole Midsomer Murders meets Harvest Moon vibe that it promised had a lot of fun potential.

Balam, Spring focuses on the isolated coastal town of Balam, just as they enter spring. What is normally a joyous time of year when school is out and the landscape starts coming into bloom turns sour when the town’s assigned white mage dies suddenly and mysteriously. A new white mage, Aava, is called in to replace her, but it soon becomes clear that other people have the same symptoms and that the town could be in grave danger.
I feel somewhat conflicted by Balam, Spring. I’ll start with the good parts of it. The actual mystery is well-constructed and has a decent amount of twists. The characters are engaging and varied, from Aava, the new white mage trying to prove her skills in a bleak situation, to Ryckert, a retired mercenary lured out by the promise of adventure, and Theo, a local schoolteacher who witnessed the original death and was wholly unprepared for the reminders it gave him of his tragic childhood. Overall, there was a lot to enjoy, and I would probably give it a recommendation to those who don’t mind a book that needs a bit of fine-tuning.
That leads me to the parts that I had issue with, which is a bit of inconsistency with the writing and world-building. Nothing major that ruined the book for me, but noticeable enough to become niggling. The trouble seems to be that, depending on the subject, the book will furnish either too much information, or not enough. For too much information, the first thing that springs to mind is the descriptions of food and general routine, as while the sections aren’t written badly, it’s the sort of detail that doesn’t add anything meaningful to a scene. I don’t need to know the exact dishes that a couple are enjoying at their meal out, I just need to know that the food enhanced the good mood that they already had together, otherwise it becomes kind of distracting and makes me wish I had more time during my lunch break. And with regards to too little information, I point you towards the non-human races introduced, the Jeornish and the Rocyan. The former have white hair and the latter have fur. That was about all that the narrative furnishes the reader with before it continues on its romp, and that really bugged me. If the non-human races had been elves and dwarves, then I could understand not elaborating on their racial features, because they’re common enough to not need explanation. With races that Riddle has presumably made wholesale, it is unsatisfying to finish the book with no real clear idea of what they even look like. It’s like showing a blind person a poster and expecting them to understand the significance without explanation. As I said though, the actual meat of the narrative is enough to make this a minor problem, but I did finish Balam, Spring thinking that it could have benefited from another round of editing.

Balam, Spring is an entertaining mystery with engaging characters and unexpected twists. It does have some issues that could have been ironed out with some more rigorous editing, but it’s by no means a book-ruining fault. 3/5

Next review: Mystery Man by Colin Bateman

Signing off,
Nisa.

Dead Beat by Jim Butcher

So I still have a few audiobooks to get to, but I didn’t fancy jumping straight back into one after a very long listen with only a short, fluffy comic in between. So it made sense to go back to a series that is kind of guaranteed to make me enjoy myself. So Dresden Files it was. I didn’t realise quite how long it had been since I last picked up the series until just now when I was looking through my blog archive. Definitely long overdue for a revisit.

If there is one thing that can spur Harry into action, it’s threatening the people he loves. So when Mavra, the Black Court vampire that he tried to kill in Blood Rites, confronts him with incriminating pictures of Murphy that she will send to the authorities unless Dresden gets her what she wants. And what Mavra wants is the Word of Kemmler, by midnight of Halloween. Unfortunately, it looks as though there are several necromancers, apprentices of the eponymous Kemmler, who also want it and are ready and willing to use the most extreme methods available to them to get it.
It’s been a while since the bad guys were just other wizards, and not a vampire or Fae of some variety, which is surprisingly refreshing. But despite reverting back to mortal enemies, Butcher manages to bring in a little bit of everything else that has come before. And it makes you realise just how much has been established when little bits of everything is brought in to influence the turn of events. There is the influence of every one of the Vampire Courts, the Fae get involved as they are wont to do, Harry has issues with the Denarian coin that he tried to seal away in his basement, and many other little things that contribute to a surprisingly complex plot.
As always, the characters are the best part, even when working with a much smaller core cast. Sure, lots of characters turn up briefly, like my perennial favourite Johnny Marcone, but they tend to be one-scene wonders. The main cast can pretty much be narrowed down to Harry, Thomas and Butters. And I didn’t know how much I would love the character development that they both get.
First there is Thomas. In previous books, he always came across as a feckless, rich playboy with hints of inner depths. Now that he’s revealed himself as Harry’s half-brother and been cut off from the vast funds that he was used to, he’s had a chance to grow into himself a bit. It was really nice to see the parts where he and Harry get a chance to act like brothers: not necessarily always on the same page, but pushing each other to get better and look after themselves.
Second is Butters. When I first mentioned him in my reviews, I said that he was surprisingly calm about being confronted with evidence of the supernatural. Well, it turns out that there’s a big difference about recognising a non-human cadaver for what it is, and having the corpse of a former colleague burst into your office and try to kidnap you. There is lots of screaming, hiding and unexpected bravery. He might well count as one of my series favourite characters now, and I can’t wait to see him turn up again.

A really solid entry that manages to pull in elements from every book that has gone before it, and yet manages to not be a confused mess of supernatural mythos. Butters and Thomas get some great character development, elevating Butters in particular to joint favourite alongside Karrin Murphy and Johnny Marcone. Additionally, Harry makes some really big decisions that I think are just going to make the next entries in the series all the more tense. 4.5/5

Next review: Nightblade by Garrett Robinson

Signing off,
Nisa.

Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix

So Found is probably not a book that I would have picked up, had I found it outside of a book bundle. While I don’t have any problem reading books aimed at children, I find that my standards for them are tougher than they are for adult books. Maybe because I grew up with things like Pixar films that can be appreciated by all ages, but dumbed down children’s fiction does nothing for me. But in this case, the premise seemed interesting enough that I could take more of a chance.

Found follows Jonah Skidmore, an ordinary teenage boy who has never thought anything about his being adopted as a baby. It is only when he and his new friend Chip, who has only just discovered that he was adopted, start getting mysterious letters of warning that he wonders whether he should be concerned about who his birth parents were. When he digs into his origins though, he finds himself entangled in a mystery that involves the FBI, a vast smuggling operation and people who appear and disappear in seemingly impossible ways.
When Found started on a really intriguing scene, that of an aeroplane appearing out of thin air and containing 36 babies and no flight crew, I was really hopeful. It’s nothing if not an arresting image, so you can imagine what I hoped that it would turn into. As it turned out, I would be disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, the story itself was decent enough, but it just needed to be tighter, go through a few rewrites. As it was, Found was decent enough, but had a few things just annoying enough to ruin the expectations that I’d had for this.
First of all, the characters mostly ended up being generically teenager instead of especially interesting by themselves. They were all kind of dim, overly concerned with what is and is not “cool” for their age group, and seemed to have really spotty memories about a topic that they’ve been focusing on for several weeks by the end of the book. For instance, there’s a bit where they meet a woman who saw the plane that Jonah and Chip were on as babies, and she posits that there was time travel involved. Chip’s reaction to this is to mock her relentlessly for her crackpot theories, completely ignoring the fact that one of the documents he has in his possession at that very moment contains information that they had previously established would be impossible to have without something like, oh I don’t know, fucking TIME TRAVEL! Like, if you wanted to have him be that sceptical, don’t provide him with reason to believe the theories that he mocks. Additionally, it seems at odds with his willingness to believe another character’s assertion that she saw a ghost, just because she says so. I just need consistency, please.
Secondly, there seems to be this weirdly specific body language or voice tone going on throughout the book. I can appreciate communicating additional information or context with either body language or tone of voice, because that’s a thing that people do, obviously. But in Found this is made into so specific and exact a form of communication that it becomes really distracting.
Lastly, it just started to drag, with little of actual substance happening between Jonah and his family meeting the FBI to discuss his adoption, and the showdown in the latter third. It’s the three main characters investigating, poorly, and getting more and more panicky because of the vague and menacing dangers around them. It did pick up at the end, but by then my experience had been tainted by the slog of the beginning and middle thirds. And if I’m bored then I can’t imagine a child or young teenager will do much better.

Found ends on a cliff-hanger, but I don’t know if I’d deliberately go out of my way to continue reading the series. The characters are pretty much just generic young teens and haven’t got much interesting about each of them individually. The writing can be distracting at times, with the sort of annoying writing tics that draw you out of your immersion. And while it did pick up towards the end, the first two thirds seemed to drag interminably through a pretty shabby investigation. Not terrible, but not particularly great either. 3/5

Next review: Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

Signing off,
Nisa.

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

Having finished Annihilation, I was really excited to see where the Southern Reach series would go. From what I could gather from the blurb, Authority would focus more on the actual facility that sent out the expeditions, as they try and wrap their heads around whatever is going on in Area X, which I thought had a lot of potential. As a warning, there will be spoilers for Annihilation in the following review, so if you’re still in the middle of it, I would advise skipping this until you’re finished.

Authority follows John “Control” Rodriguez, a secret service agent who has taken over as the new director at Southern Reach, following Annihilation‘s disastrous twelfth expedition. Three of the expedition members have returned home without triggering any alarms at the border of Area X, only the psychologist, now revealed to be the former director, still missing. Having been charged by his mysterious handler, known only as “the Voice”, to put Southern Reach back into some kind of order, Control must try and navigate deliberately obstructive staff who are certain that the former director will return, the unnerving and circuitous notes left behind by the former director, and the disturbing notion that his superiors are keeping secrets from him.
When I finish a book, what I usually do is write my review, submit it, and then take a look at other people’s reviews to see where we differ. As I wanted to organise my thoughts a little before discussing Authority, I looked at the reviews first. The number of one star reviews that I found in surprisingly quick succession gave me a bit of a shock. But taking a look at the content of those criticisms, I could see where they were all coming from, despite personally quite liking it. So, the main criticisms seemed to be with regards to the comparatively slow pace and more mundane focus on what is essentially office politics, especially after the weirdness that was Annihilation. They seem like decent enough points to discuss, and I can avoid the majority of spoilers. Looking at Authority having finished it, I can say that the slow pace and the focus on office politics, while admittedly frustrating at times, does seem to have its place in the grand scheme of the Southern Reach series. The pace and focus serve to develop what could be considered the status quo of two elements: Control, and the Southern Reach facility.
I’ll start with Southern Reach itself. While initially appearing rather normal for a facility dealing with Area X, the mundane routine of a 9-5 working week means that each day reveals layer after layer of weirdness and misdirection between all the different people working there. Control’s return to his rented home in the nearby town provides a much more straightforward example of normality, so you can really see how Area X is starting to bleed out and affect its surroundings. And once you get to the part of Authority where the plot goes from 0 to 60, it is way more of a shock to the system. Having created a pocket of comparative normality, the uninhibited weirdness of Area X that turns up in the final third is stark and feels so much more threatening for it.
Then there is Control. He decides at the beginning of his term as the director that he won’t let himself get emotionally involved in anything that he finds out, and that he will stay firmly in control of whatever he needs to do in order to clean up after his predecessor, meaning that he sets out with a hyper-vigilant mind-set. The set-backs that he encounters pretty much immediately, like the strange obsession that he has with interviewing the biologist and the deliberate withholding of information from both his employees and superiors, aren’t necessarily big when he is first confronted with them. But with his hyper-vigilance, he picks up on every little detail, both legitimate cause for concern and irrelevant tidbit, and soon everything is being seen as part of a mass of competing conspiracies, leading him on a downward spiral to anxiety and paranoia. I think you can probably guess what a mindset that defensive and fragile will do when confronted with anything from Area X, right?

If you’ve started reading Authority with the intent of getting concrete answers for questions you had from Annihilation, then you will be disappointed. It does give some more details about the Southern Reach facility though, so while I won’t admit to knowing much more than I did at the end of the last book, I think I have a firmer feel on how the world works. I have seen some criticism that Authority focuses too much on the office politics, but I think that the slow pace and (comparatively) mundane setting are very cleverly pulled off. The focus on seemingly unimportant details both develops how the normal world is affected by Area X even with containment, and allows Control to move from being stoic and hyper-vigilant to someone who is barely coping with his own anxiety and paranoia. You just have to be patient with it. 4.5/5

Next review: Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

Signing off,
Nisa.

Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

It’s been a while since I read a classic, but of the many classics out there, why pick up Lady Audley’s Secret, a book by an author that I had never heard of in my life? Well, the blurb promised all sorts of scandalous acts that shouldn’t come anywhere near the neutered Victorian ideal, so of course my interest was peaked.

After three years spent gold prospecting in Australia, George Talboys is keen to return home to his beautiful wife and young child. Upon his return, he finds that she has just died and, utterly bereft at this turn of events, he stays with an old friend to try and recover. His friend, Robert Audley, suggests a visit to his wealthy uncle in the Essex countryside as a form of distraction and as an excuse to meet his new aunt, a woman renowned in the local area as a great beauty. When the trip ends with George’s disappearance, Robert finds himself driven to discovering what happened. The more he investigates though, the more suspicious his new aunt becomes, and he risks miring his family in scandal.
You probably noticed that I didn’t mention any of the scandalous things that the blurb tempted me in with. Because knowing them in advance kind of ruins any surprise that Lady Audley’s Secret has. Lady Audley, in my read-through, had no real secrets because with a couple of exceptions the twists are pretty clearly signposted if you’ve already been told the spoilers. Despite this though, I found this thoroughly enjoyable. The writing is a bit on the flowery side, but considering the focus on Victorian domestic arrangements it does work quite well. The only thing that truly bothered me was the ending. If you’re interested in actually reading Lady Audley’s Secret, which I really would recommend, then you might want to skip the next paragraph.
So, the ending. Lady Audley has been revealed to be a murderous bigamist who pushed her first husband, George Talboys, down a well after he discovered that she wasn’t dead as he had first believed. In order to save his family’s honour, Robert Audley spirits her away to a madhouse to quietly expire at a safe distance, but can never honour his departed friend by giving him a proper burial for fear that it would go to a criminal court. All well and good so far, and I could have accepted that as an ending. Then it turned out that George Talboys was alive all this time and just doesn’t have any understanding of how this “keeping in contact” thing works. And everyone who isn’t the eponymous Lady Audley has a happy ending. The book ends with a reference to a Bible quote where the righteous shall not be forsaken, and honestly it’s so bloody saccharine after a plot that has been gratifyingly scandalous and treacherous. It was such a disappointment. Not enough to entirely ruin the book, but enough to leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Even having had the majority of the secrets spoiled by the blurb of my edition, I found myself really enjoying myself. That’s probably why I was so disappointed by the abrupt turn into happy ending territory in the last couple of chapters. Still worth a read though. 4/5

Next review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Signing off,
Nisa.

Blood Rites by Jim Butcher

If feels like forever since the last Dresden Files book that I read, and as the last few books that I’ve read have left me feeling somewhat wanting, I figured going back to a series that I’ve had great luck with to get me back in a more positive reading groove.

Blood Rites follows Dresden as he looks into an unusual series of deaths occurring on the set of an adult film, as a favour to his White Court vampire acquaintance Thomas Raith. The director is convinced that he is cursed, as the women around him keep dying in unusual and ridiculously over-the-top fashion. It soon transpires that other members of the Raith family may be involved in some way. On top of that, Mavra, a powerful Black Court vampire, has returned to Chicago, and Dresden needs to find a trustworthy crew to help him clear out her lair before she can spread further chaos.
I definitely needed a break, and the return to the Dresden Files was just what I needed. While I didn’t love Blood Rites as much as Death Masks, it was definitely still a great entry in the series. For one thing, it delves into a group that hasn’t really had much time for development, the White Court vampires. Thomas has appeared a couple of times now, and there’s been a bit of explanation that White vampires feed on emotional energy, but not much beyond that. Now that the main plot is centred around someone that Thomas has a need to protect, there’s a lot more focus on how he and his family manage to hold their own against stronger types of vampire.
Blood Rites also provides an intriguing hint about Kincaid’s true nature. While I figured that he probably wasn’t human, considering that his day job seems to be looking after the living Archive of all human knowledge, this book seems to hint that he may be far more powerful than the audience had been led to believe. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for him, as there’s currently not enough information given for me to try and make an educated guess.

Overall, this feels like Blood Rites is the Dresden Files book of small progressions. While it’s very well-written and entertaining, it doesn’t feel like this is quite the same level of challenge as previous installments. While admittedly there’s a lot in the way of character progression for Harry, but after the threat of the Denarians, vampires are starting to feel a bit less scary. 4/5

Next review: A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls was a book that I stole from my mum after she had finished reading it, although she seems to have forgotten it entirely by the time that I actually got round to reading it. I took it partly because I was intrigued by the premise, and partly because I had heard good things about the author Lauren Beukes.

The Shining Girls focuses on two main characters, Kirby and Harper. Kirby is a young woman who is trying to put her life back together after a brutal attack that nearly killed her. Attempting to track down the man who tried to kill her, she starts finding evidence that she isn’t the first woman who he has attacked, but some of the evidence is just impossible. Meanwhile Harper, having found a house that inexplicably allows him to travel anywhere within the years 1929 and 1993, is compelled to kill a set of girls whose names he has found written on the walls of one of the rooms upstairs, leaving a memento from one of his other kills at the scene of her death.
So I really wanted the whole time travelling serial killer premise to work for me, but it just doesn’t. It’s quite disappointing, especially as the writing itself is solid and engaging. But for me, the time travel just wasn’t implemented well, leading to two main problems.
Firstly, it’s really tough to make a thriller tense when you know that most of the awful stuff that the serial killer is going to do has, in another character’s timeline, already happened. Sure, the murder scenes are really well-written and horrifying in and of themselves, but it’s tough to maintain the tension when the reaction to each new female perspective chapter is “well, here’s the next sacrificial lamb”. The time and attention spent fleshing them out and giving them engaging problems seems kind of wasted since the reader knows that the next time their name crops up, they’ll be dead by the end of the chapter.
Secondly, it uses my most despised type of time travel, the ontological paradox, also known as a causal loop. If you’re not familiar with that, essentially it’s if person A is given an item by the elderly person B, then goes back in time to give that item to a younger version of person B. At which point you sit there and wonder how the item came into being in the first place if it’s constantly looping between two points in time. It drives me up the wall, and the aggravating part is that Beukes spends so much time setting up this closed loop. Spoiler alert, it turns out at the end that the reason the House makes Harper want to kill people is because the House is Harper’s spirit. Which is just infuriating, because it wants to be so clever and thematic, but it just brings up questions. How are the girls picked out as victims? Harper keeps mentioning that they shine, but the narrative never elaborates on what that is exactly. The only way that Harper knows about who he needs to kill and when he needs to go to kill them is via the House, so there’s never any thought process about why or how his victims are selected. It unwittingly leads to Harper being a more or less flat character, as he has no real motivations other than follow the House’s lead, for reasons that are never explained.

The Shining Girls is a prime example of an interesting premise that is its own worst enemy. What interest there could be from the impossible serial killer storyline is sabotaged by its own use of dated time travel tropes. There’s little tension because all the killings have already happened in one timeline or another, and the painstakingly constructed causal loop only brings up questions of how this all comes about as well as depriving the main villain of any meaningful motivation. The only saving grace is the writing itself, but there’s only so much that can be saved from this plot. 2.5/5

Next review: Blood Rites by Jim Butcher

Signing off,
Nisa.

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