Beukes carries her experimentation in science fiction (Moxyland, 2010) and fantasy (Zoo City, 2010) to very dark corners as she follows a time-traveling serial killer who preys on young Chicago women from the 1930s until the 1990s.
In 1974, a little girl named Kirby takes a toy pony from a strange man in his 30s named Harper. In 1931, Harper, a tramp no older or younger than in 1974, hears and follows mysterious music to a boarded-up tenement and opens the front door with a key he has found in the pocket of a coat he stole earlier that night. Inside the house, which is elegantly furnished, is a man’s dead body. On the bedroom wall are the names of girls possessing a special glow that he must extinguish (and his first victim is a young showgirl with a literal glow about her from the radium she uses in her act). Each time Harper leaves his house, he can travel in time. He marks his victims first by giving them small gifts, then returns years later to kill them. And he returns again and again to 1931. Because of his ability to travel in and out of the 60-year time frame, he avoids suspicion. But there are glitches. In 1951, the transgendered showgirl he met in 1940 kills herself before he can kill her. In 1993, an artist turned crack addict has already lost her shine by the time he strikes. And Kirby, whom Harper assumes he has killed in 1989, has managed to survive. By 1993, when Harper’s pace has sped up, Kirby is a student intern for attractive, middle-aged newspaper reporter Dan, who covered the story of her attack. Tracking her assailant, Kirby begins to suspect the bizarre nature of Harper’s vicious killing spree.
Despite thrillingly beautiful sentences, Beukes’ considerable imaginative powers seem wasted in this shallow, often ugly game of cat and mouse tarted up with supernatural elements that do not bear too much scrutiny.