Seattle private detective Harper Blaine is just doing her job when, in this book’s opening pages, somebody up and beats her to death for no apparent reason. Don’t worry; she gets better. But after being dead for around two minutes, there’s no going back to business as usual. Even after the physical injuries are healed, Harper is haunted by strange images that flicker on the edge of her vision, and sometimes even more aggressively weird experiences. Her doctor refers her to some friends of his who specialize in problems at the fringe of science, if not beyond. Harper visits the couple—a linguist who dabbles in paranormal theory, and his Irish wife who happens to be a witch—and they lay the news on her. There is no going back to normal for Harper. She is, for better or worse, a Greywalker.
A what, you say? A Greywalker! You know, someone who can see into, and even move around in the Grey, the no-man’s-zone between our reality and… whatever. It’s also known as the Paranormal, because it lies alongside the normal, and overlaps it in funny ways that only a few gifted people can see. Since her death and resuscitation, Harper has become especially gifted in this area. But because she doesn’t understand it, because she doesn’t accept it, because she thrashes around in the Grey like a cat in the bath, she attracts the notice of other creatures that live in the Grey, or that can enter it from the other side. Creatures that could eat her, if she doesn’t learn to protect herself.
Harper doesn’t seem to be in enough of a hurry to learn this knack, though. Perhaps this is because she is also trying to keep her business going. And yet, either by chance or by design, her latest couple of cases also depend on her ability to straddle the line between the real and the unreal. Her missing-persons case turns into an emotional reunion in which a troubled college kid comes out to his mother—as a vampire. And her search for a family heirloom leads, instead, to a dark artifact full of enough necromantic energy to bake Seattle extra-crispy.
Fixing both problems will require Harper to involve ignorant, normal humans—such as a free-wheeling security consultant and a drop-dead-gorgeous antiquities expert. She will need to come to grips with ghosts, revenants, and a beast that guards the Grey. And she will also need to play power-politics among the city’s vampires at a level that makes Machiavelli look like a meddlesome amateur. That means she has no choice but to learn fast. Her life, and thousands of others, depend on it.
This spooky, occasionally terrifying, and sometimes funny book plays like a mash-up of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and the Kinsey Millhone mysteries by Sue Grafton. Harper is a tough, street-smart, yet attractively feminine private eye who combines case-closing know-how with a growing understanding of the weird underworld that hides within the modern city of Seattle. Her romance with Will (the auctioneer) is juicy. The heightening danger of her situation is thrilling. Her relationships with other characters are endearingly funny and fraught with believable tension. One creature she encounters is so terrifying that it makes vanilla vampires seem as tame and cuddly as Harper’s pet ferret. Plus there are some priceless, subtle touches—like a vampire who is also a vamp.
I would have said this book offers the welcome prospect of a whole series of sequels, even if I didn’t know this was already the first book in a series of eight (so far). They’ve been coming out steadily, one book a year, since 2006. The next book in the sequence is Poltergeist. The latest is Possession. For an eyeful of the full list, click here.