Every now and then, I like to read a good thriller. I don’t read them very often because, to be honest, they scare me something rotten and I can only handle the gruesome murder scenes once in a while. There’s probably only so many variations you can play on the serial killer theme too and surely they’ve all been done by now?
On the 17th July 1974, Harper Curtis meets Kirby Mazrachi for the first time.
‘How old are you?’
‘Six and three-quarters. Almost seven.’
‘That’s great. Really great. Here we go. Round and round, like your Ferris wheel. I’ll see you when you’re all grownup. Look out for me, okay, sweetheart? I’ll come back for you.’
On the 23rd March 1989 he attacks her and leaves her for dead. Kirby is 21. Harper has barely aged at all.
When Kirby’s sufficiently well, she decides to finish the job that the police have been unable to and sets out to track down her killer, using a position as an intern on a local paper to help her research and make contacts.
The story moves between Kirby, Harper, Harper’s other victims and, arguably the main character of the book, the house.
The House has been waiting for him. It called him here for a purpose. The voice in his head is whispering home.
The door to the main bedroom is closed…He reaches for the handle, half-expecting it to be locked. But it turns with a click and he nudges the door with the tip of his crutch. It opens onto a room bathed, inexplicably, in the glare of a summer afternoon.
He squints against the sudden brightness outside and watches it change to thick rolling clouds and silvered dashes of rain, then to a red-streaked sunset, like a cheap zoetrope. But instead of a galloping horse or a girl saucily removing her stockings it’s whole seasons whirring past.
And that’s not the only surprise the house has to offer him:
Every surface [in the main bedroom] has been defaced. There are artifacts mounted on the walls, nailed in or strung up with wire. They seem to jitter in a way that he can feel in the back of his teeth. All connected by lines that have been drawn over again and again, with chalk or ink or a knife tip scraped through the wallpaper. Constellations, the voice in his head says.
There are names scrawled beside them. Jinsuk. Zora. Willie. Kirby. Margo. Julia. Catherine. Alice. Misha. Strange names of women he doesn’t know.
Except that the names are written in Harper’s own handwriting.
These women shine for Harper. They shine for us too. Beukes has cleverly taken women who are pioneers – the black woman who works as a welder on a ship in the early 1940s; the female architect in 1954; the woman who helps to run an illegal abortion service in 1972 and so on. It seems as though Beukes has created an underlying theme of women’s rights, showing us females who’ve pushed the boundaries and been struck down again and again. Kirby carries the hopes of the modern female – if she succeeds in stopping Harper, does she succeed for all women in the fight for equality?
It would be difficult to overstate how much I loved this book. It’s a thriller for people who don’t read thrillers; fantasy for people who don’t read fantasy, and literary fiction for people who don’t read literary fiction. It’s a bloody good book for people who like to read bloody good books.
Thanks to HarperCollins for the review copy.