If the way to my heart is paved with monsters and science, Courtney Alameda absolutely stole it with SHUTTER. Her debut novel follows reaper and tetrachromat Micheline Helsing and her crew as she attempts to save herself, her friends, and her city from a murderous ghost on rampage. A failed exorcism has left them soulchained, ghostlight creeping beneath their skin and infecting them. Micheline and her crew have seven days to reap their ghost; a second failure will cost them their lives. Or worse.
It’s clear from moment one that Alameda loves her monsters. She sets the stage in St. Mary’s Hospital, a battlefield of destruction and devastation. Civilians are milling outside, and Micheline, one of the last descendants of the Van Helsing lineage, charges into the fray armed with her weapon of choice: a specially modified SLR camera which uses a quartz lens to capture spirit energy. I don’t want to ruin it for you, but let’s just say there are creepy nursery rhymes, women vomiting ghosts, and teeth. Lots of teeth not in a mouth where they should be.
(Fun fact: I am terrified of teeth.)
Alameda does horror beautifully. There’s a lot of bloodshed and bullet wounds, but the narrative isn’t dripping with gore. The psychological scares, the things unseen in the dark, are so well done, it leaves you with the creeps even after you’ve put the book down.
Let’s start with Micheline: she’s gritty, a total badass, fiercely loyal, and she still has emotions. Most of what she feels is raw. Guilt for getting herself and her friends into this mess wars with her determination to get them out. She’s suffering PTSD from a horrific event not too far in her past. She’s a strong female lead, and she’s relatable. Sure, there’s a bit of a romance tucked in there, but it all underlies and boosts the race-against-the-clock challenge. The action happens incredibly fast and Micheline drives the narrative full-force.
Alameda does a wonderful job incorporating the players from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Micheline Helsing is descended from the Van Helsing bloodline, and fittingly her friend Oliver, tech-wiz and transcriber, is related to Mr. Stoker himself. The Harkers have sadly died out (yes, I was bit disappointed), but remain present with the Harker Elite, the security detail and task force for Helsing. The fictional word Bram Stoker gave us in Dracula is tied perfectly to Shutter’s modern spin. I think if Abraham Van Helsing had been real, he’d be exceptionally proud of Micheline.
There’s a lot of bloodshed and bullet wounds, but the narrative isn’t dripping with gore. The psychological scares, the things unseen in the dark, are so well done, it leaves you with the creeps even after you’ve put the book down.Strap on your boots, I’m about to geek out over science. Alameda’s ghosts and monsters are perfect, but the science behind it makes everything stronger. As a tetrachromat, Micheline has an extra cone in her eyes which allows her to see a broader spectrum of color. Most mammals initially had tetrachromacy, but over the years, adaptation and genetics have resulted in the loss of two of the cones. Humans are still born with four cones, though the condition is rare. Micheline’s extra cone allows her to see ghostlight and identify what sort of Big Bad she’s up against. Do human tetros see ghosts? I don’t know, but it was clever choice to work into the story.
Then there’s Micheline’s camera. Oliver, genius he is, modified the SLR camera to work with a quartz lens. There’s all sorts of lore regarding capturing spirit energy in crystal, and converting a camera’s natural light-capturing process is very Fatal Frame and something I find rather underutilized. The use of mirrors is also ingenious. Often, we see bullets take out monsters, or some Latin chanting gets tossed at the demon, but we rarely see specifically designed weaponry. Film is a perfect medium. Alameda also incorporates old defense elements: wearing a cross and using faith as a weapon against the darkness.
Honestly, the only part of the book that disappointed me was when I got to the end and there were no more words. I would love Alameda to write another story in this world. It was incredibly immersive and Shutter is one of my favorite books of the year. I daresay it’s about as close to perfect as you can get.
Just, maybe read it with the lights on if you’re easily spooked.
5 out of 5 stars
Meghan Harker is a Horror writer for Girls in Capes. She graduated from Brenau University in 2011 with a degree in English. She attended Cambridge University for a semester, but still didn’t master an English accent. When not writing, she’s either drawing, reading, hosting the Counting Casualties podcast, hunting antiques, or lamenting that she wasn’t born in the 1800s. If you follow her on Twitter @ExquisitelyOdd, you might get the chance to play Guess Who’s Dead!, her favorite post-mortem photography game (no one else likes to play.)