This book is magnetic.  Not in the metal-to-metal attraction sense, but in that elusive, personal way.  We try to describe why a person who is not particularly attractive in the conventional sense, nor particularly brilliant, nor particularly talented, can still arrest us and hold us captive to their every move, every word.  We call it magnetism.  It's an invisible force, but it's still very strong.

I felt that way about Courtney Alameda's Shutter.  I picked it up on work break one day and couldn't stop reading.  It was a compulsion, almost.  I didn't read it straight through; but fearing that I'd reach the end and have nothing else good to read, I hit the brakes about one-third of the way through.  The next time I picked up the book, it was like it had kidnapped me and taken me for an inescapable ride.

In this alternate reality, vampires, ghosts, werewolves, and other "necros" are real.  The house of Van Helsing, along with the Stokers and their allies, represent mankind's greatest defense against the undead.  Yes, that Van Helsing.  That Stoker.  Unfortunately, the last in the Harker line died some years past, but Jonathan and Mina are still models of staking and baking the undead.

Micheline Van Helsing is one of the most promising cadets in the Helsing Corps--she should be, as a direct descendant of Abraham Van Helsing.  Her father, Leonard, is the head of the Helsing Corps, and his highly trained teams of reapers cleanse the city of San Francisco of errant zombies, poltergeists, scythewalkers, and hypernecrotics.  One of the reasons Micheline is so good at what she does is that she is a tetrachromat: her eyes allow her to see ghostlight (what I thought of as ghost b.o.).  Each type of dead being has a specific color aura.  She quite literally sees dead people.  Well, most of them don't resemble people any more.

On her team is her father's protégé Ryder McCoy, Oliver Stoker, the analyst, and Jude Drake, who can see the future--the possible future, anyway--with a touch, and the touch of blood sets him off like a paranormal bloodhound.  The idea is that a team of reapers captures the ghost's energy using something called a reaping pane (fancy mirror), which is then dipped in glass and becomes an antimirror, a way for the Helsing Corps to communicate with the dead trapped in the Obscura.  There's a really rich and complex mythology to this world, and I'm not good enough to explain it, so just let Alameda do that for you.  It's fascinating.

Micheline is different from other reapers; she uses a camera and its flash to capture ghostly energy on film, trapping it on the celluloid.  After developing the photos, she gets a physical image of the paranormal.  She's also cocky as all get out, which leads the team into the situation that might cause their death.

When a mysterious evil entity destroys a team of Catholic exorcists who often partner up with the Helsing Corps,  Father Marlowe, a family friend, calls for help.  Micheline's team, although not technically allowed to go in alone ... go it alone.  The ghost inside is unusually strong and violent, leaving limbs strewn all over the hospital it's invaded.  Possessing the body of a dead nurse, the ghost addresses Micheline by name (what?) and spews an ominous black fog into the lungs of the team.

When Micheline and the team come back to Angel Island in disgrace, they test positive for paranormal infection, even after being injected with the H-3 vaccines against reanimation, zombification, and vampirism.  Micheline notices an odd glow coming from her stomach.  After some ghostly interrogation, the research team discovers that Micheline, Ryder, Ollie, and Jude have all been linked with a "soulchain," binding them to the creature that cast it.  The soulchain will take their lives in a matter of days if they don't destroy the necro who created it.

You know what they're going to do.  Lock and load, baby.

Only Micheline has to escape from her house first, where her father has imprisoned her after destroying her cameras and punching her in the face.  Yes, her father is a *insert word of your choice here.*  Once she meets up with the three boys, they have to figure out how to evade the best hunters in the world--their former allies--and defeat a necro with unbelievable power.

I loved, loved, loved this tale.  Alameda doesn't hit the brakes--ever.  We go go go go go after ghosts and scorpions made out of corpses and all sorts of nasty creatures.  I even liked the forbidden romance between Ryder and Micheline, so help me!  How can I not root for a couple of kids who are totally into one another and being kept apart so that Micheline's dad can marry her off to another Van Helsing cousin and she can serve as brood mare for a bunch of wee tetrachromat reapers.  Ugh.  Take the Aussie Ryder and run, Micheline!

In spite of her training, Micheline makes some real rookie mistakes, especially when it comes to figuring out who her enemies really are.  I worked it out in the beginning of the book, and near the end, the author is throwing so many hints at the reader that you can't dodge them.  I mean, hello Micheline, if some guy's been locked up in his cell and has shown a manic fascination with insects, he's a Renfield!  But even these TSTL moments didn't stop me from loving this book.

I mean, when you name-check Scully and Skinner as med techs at the Angel Island compound, you've got me, heart and soul.  I kept finding myself grinning from ear to ear at all of the literary and pop culture references snuggled into the prose (which, by the way, is intricate without being strained).

This is an absolute winner in the horror department.  Alameda has created a rich, believable world of ghosts and their hunters, of inhumanity and true goodness.

When can I have the next one?


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