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Book: “Shutter” by Ramona Emerson
Publishing Info: Soho Crime, August 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC of this novel at ALAAC22.
Book Description: This blood-chilling debut set in New Mexico’s Navajo Nation is equal parts gripping crime thriller, supernatural horror, and poignant portrayal of coming of age on the reservation.
Rita Todacheene is a forensic photographer working for the Albuquerque police force. Her excellent photography skills have cracked many cases—she is almost supernaturally good at capturing details. In fact, Rita has been hiding a secret: she sees the ghosts of crime victims who point her toward the clues that other investigators overlook.
As a lone portal back to the living for traumatized spirits, Rita is terrorized by nagging ghosts who won’t let her sleep and who sabotage her personal life. Her taboo and psychologically harrowing ability was what drove her away from the Navajo reservation, where she was raised by her grandmother. It has isolated her from friends and gotten her in trouble with the law. And now it might be what gets her killed.
When Rita is sent to photograph the scene of a supposed suicide on a highway overpass, the furious, discombobulated ghost of the victim—who insists she was murdered—latches onto Rita, forcing her on a quest for revenge against her killers, and Rita finds herself in the crosshairs of one of Albuquerque’s most dangerous cartels. Written in sparkling, gruesome prose, Shutter is an explosive debut from one of crime fiction’s most powerful new voices.
Review: Thank you to Soho Crime for giving me an ARC of this novel!
Before I went out to the ALA Annual Conference this summer, I made a list of books that I wanted to look for in potential ARC form. I also sat down and tried to figure out which publishing house was where on the map so I could be the most efficient in finding said potential books. There were some that I put little stars next to, denoting that these were the books I was most excited for, and “Shutter” by Ramona Emerson was one of those books. I had stumbled upon the description of this book online, and it just called out to me. An Indigenous author combining a gritty detective procedural with a story of a woman who can see ghosts at the crime scene she photographs? In Albuquerque, when New Mexico is one of my favorite states?! HELL YES I WANT THIS BOOK! And I was so thrilled when it was available. I finally sat down to read it about a month after the conference, and let me tell you, I was not disappointed.
The first big thing is that, as we all know, I am a HUGE sucker for stories with people who can see ghosts. I love the idea of a person communicating with the dead, and so help me, if it helps solve a crime and gets tangled up in a procedural setting, I am going to be SO ON TOP OF THAT. And Emerson nails that entire concept here with a really likable medium protagonist, a well established psychic connection to the dead, and how that can both help and hinder her (and it’s mostly hinder her) in her professional and day to day life. I love the idea of the dead not being at all chill about finding someone they think can help them, and then becoming so obsessed with her that THAT is one of the scariest things. In so many stories like this the medium just assists the ghosts because that’s just the right thing to do. In “Shutter”, the ghost in question, Erma, is a complete psychotic asshole who is making Ramona’s life a living hell, and watching it escalate is creepy and scary. I also liked the kinder and gentler interactions between Ramona and ghosts, mostly those from her childhood where her deceased grandfather would come to visit. But along with all that, I also LOVED how Emerson brings an Indigenous perspective to this, and how for Ramona as a Navajo woman seeing the dead is incredibly taboo and something that makes those in her community wary of her, as well as worried for her. Because of this, she cuts herself off from her culture in some ways, and it reflects a lot of the tragic ways that Indigenous people can lose grasps on their identities in a reality that doesn’t involve ghosts.
But this is also a solid procedural thriller, that mixes in gritty detective drama, cartel threats, and a very real and malevolent undercurrent of police corruption that is rotting at the systemic level. While it is true that Erma is a pain in the ass and genuinely creepy at times, the real threat to Ramona is getting too close to not only dangerous drug runners, but also realizing that the supposed ‘good guys’ that she works with can be just and threatening, as law enforcement has its own problems with violent, dangerous people working within it. Emerson also addresses how Rita, as an Indigenous woman, had bad run ins with police as a kid, where she tried to use her powers to help solve a murder, but then was zeroed in on as a potential suspect as opposed to someone with information. Sometimes procedurals get lost in the idea of good police working against the odds, and maybe address a smattering of bad cops here or there while being sure to show that the hero cops are righteous and true. I always kind of like it more these days when stories about law enforcement, even those that follow detectives and police, are more honest about the serious problems law enforcement in this country has in regards to racism and corruption, and “Shutter” addresses it very well.
If you love a good detective story, and if you love a good story about people who talk to ghosts, absolutely pick up “Shutter”. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Rating 8: Heavy, creepy, and suspenseful, “Shutter” is an awesome horror twist on a procedural mystery.
“Shutter” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think it would fit in on “Not the ‘Normal’ Paranormal”.