________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 11. . . .November 18, 2016



Natasha Deen.
Winnipeg, MB: Great Plains, 2016.
247 pp., trade pbk., epub & mobi, $14.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-927855-39-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-927855-43-0 (epub), ISBN 978-1-927855-44-7 (mobi).

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4



The next day, Nell, Serge and I sat in a line on my bed, facing the ghost who’d found his voice, given us his name – Kent – and now paced from one side of the room to the other. And his name reminded me why I knew him. Nell. She’d had a huge crush on him a couple years back. And no surprise. Kent Meagher was Dead Falls’ version of a superhero. He’d graduated high school at sixteen, and had been admitted into the medical program at the University of Alberta as a first-year freshman. I wasn’t sure exactly what the research was. It had something to do with the genetic testing of tumours and how knowing its DNA could influence which drugs were prescribed. Plus, he’d had that lone wolf, quiet-waters-run-deep shyness that made the girls drool.

Right now, though, he looked less supermodel and more modern art project gone wrong. The lines of his body were blurred and smeared, like someone had painted him then run their hands over the wet paint. His face went dark, as though he’d stepped into shade.

This wasn’t surprising. Every soul deals with being dead in a different way. Serge had come into the afterlife sharp and fully formed...till he blew himself up. Rori had never been dead, only close to it, which was why she’d never fully formed.

Until Kent came to grips with being dead and how to exist in the afterlife, his features would blur and sharpen...but you’d think a guy with the kind of brains he had would grasp what “dead” meant. “I’m dead,” he said, not for the first time, not for the fourth time.


At the novel’s beginning, Dr. and Mrs. Pierson are frantic because their young daughter, Rori, has disappeared. When Sheriff Nancy isn’t available to help find the missing child, Maggie and her friends take on the task. Their search is successful. They find the little girl, and Serge uses his energy to restart her heart. Just at this moment, a ghost appears, but oddly enough, he doesn’t seem to realize that he’s dead. It is up to Maggie to find out the ghost’s identity, figure out how he died and then help him cross into the afterlife. This murder mystery forms the main plot of Gatekeeper.

     Deen’s earlier novel, Guardian, introduces many of the main characters who appear in this book. Maggie, 17, continues to help the dead transition. Despite this rather odd calling, Maggie is a likeable and practical young woman who will doggedly dig for and follow any clues which will help unravel Kent’s untimely death. She is an interesting combination of persistent and stubborn yet caring and compassionate at the same time.

     The other characters are an eclectic mix of the dead and the living. Maggie’s boyfriend Craig is a ferryman of souls from this life to the next, and her good friend Serge is a ghost whose mysterious death was the focus of Guardian. On the side of the living are Maggie’s father Hank and his girlfriend Nancy, who happens to be the local sheriff, as well as Maggie’s good friend Nell, a character who adds a great deal of humour to the overall story.

     Deen is able to make this mixture of the paranormal and mystery genres work beautifully. As Maggie delves deeper and deeper into Kent’s life and family, she discovers just how many secrets he is hiding. Deen gives her readers complex subplots and clues. While everything makes sense in the end, there is no telescoping of what will happen. Deen keeps readers on the edge of their seats as she slowly but surely weaves many threads into a final tapestry. Was Kent murdered and, if so, by whom and for what reason? What role does his family play in what has happened? How could such an all-round student and nice guy simply disappear without anyone having any information? And how does young Rori’s brush with death fit into the overall picture?

     On a more philosophical note, Deen plays with the idea of souls and their inability to transition into the afterlife if they have not made their peace in this life. Many of the characters in the novel have secrets, and Deen’s readers realize that not every ending is ‘happy-ever-after’. Part of Kent’s difficulty in transitioning is his continuing worry for his mother being left behind on her own. Given her work as someone who is a gatekeeper between this life and the next, Maggie quite rightfully wonders if there is too much death and sadness in the world. Fortunately, Deen gives Maggie good friends who provide some comic relief as well as practical advice and help her through the rough times just as Maggie does her best to help the dead transition as smoothly as possible.

     Natasha Deen has left some tantalizing clues at the end of the book, suggesting that there may well be a sequel to Guardian and Gatekeeper. Readers can only hope this will happen and that there will be more novels to challenge and interest so many fans – whether of horror, paranormal or mystery – and keep them happily reading.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher-librarian and classroom teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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