One of the best-loved psychological thrillers to hit bookstores in recent years is finally coming to television. If you’re into books like Behind Her Eyes and The Outsider, you’ve probably already heard about The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes’ 2013 novel about a time-traveling serial killer and the victim who turns the tables on him. The Apple TV+ adaptation is streaming now, but if you need a refresher on how the book ends before diving in, keep reading. Major spoilers for The Shining Girls follow.
The Shining Girls follows Harper Curtis (Jamie Bell), a killer from Depression-era Chicago, who finds a key on the person of his latest victim, and uses it to unlock the door to a strange house. Inside, Harper discovers a room covered in seemingly random objects, each with a woman’s name attached. He quickly figures out that the house wants him to kill these women — the titular Shining Girls — who live at various times across the next 60 years. All Harper has to do is step out of the room with the house key and a copy of one of the objects — the originals remain inside the house — and he can visit any year between 1929 and 1993.
So begins Harper Curtis’ killing spree. He visits each of the Shining Girls when she is little and gives her a token item from the room, such as a baseball card or toy. Then, he leaps forward in time by a decade or more, murders the Shining Girl, and leaves a different woman’s token at the scene.
His luck changes when he brutally stabs Kirby Mizrachi (Elisabeth Moss) in 1989 and leaves her for dead. Unbeknownst to Harper, Kirby survives the attempt on her life. And four years later, with her would-be killer still unidentified, she decides to go after him on her own.
Kirby takes a job working for Dan Velazquez (Wagner Moura), the journalist who covered her story for the Chicago Sun-Times. She’s upfront about wanting to track down her attacker, and she has an impossible theory — that the man who tried to kill her has been murdering women in Chicago for the last 60 years. Because Harper’s M.O. includes leaving another woman’s token with each Shining Girl he kills, Kirby’s search uncovers anachronisms at the scenes of several Chicago murders, and she realizes that her own token — the 1985 My Little Pony figurine a strange man gave her in 1976 — is similarly displaced in time. Armed with this information, she enlists Dan’s help to research the pony’s history.
Meanwhile, Harper is hunting Kirby once again, having read one of her articles from 1993. When someone tips her off that a man is looking for her, Kirby turns the tables on Harper and pursues him all the way to the house. After seeing the token room, she tries reporting Harper and the house to the police, but they find nothing amiss inside.
Kirby approaches Dan once more and convinces him to break into the house with her. While Dan fends off Harper in 1929, Kirby gathers the tokens and prepares to burn them. Harper critically injures Dan and returns to the house, arriving just in time to see Kirby set the items ablaze. The novel ends with Kirby shooting Harper and leaving him to die in the burning house while she and Dan escape.