At just over 100 pages, with a story that takes place over just a few days, this novella is a quick read. The narrative closely follows the protagonist's journey as he learns of the grave disturbances in his coastal town. Gloucester, Massachusetts is a wonderfully cinematic setting. (Wikipedia informs me that it boasts the motto, "America's Oldest Seaport.") If there were a creepy-cool anthology TV show on the air right now, this would make for one solid episode, with some meaty scenes for the fortunate actor cast as the lead, Richie Feehan. Richie's a guy basically just trying to make ends meet, painting houses most of the time and catching lobsters a few days a week, and it's while he's working that second job that he comes across a rather curious collection of shells stuck in a lobster trap. Also factoring in: Richie's long-time on-again, off-again girlfriend, Bree; her brother, Pete, who's a cop; and Richie's brother and sister-in-law.
The fact that Richie's family runs the local funeral home allows him access to certain goings-on and information without having to make the character himself involved in the business. He seems far more suited to his job as a lobsterman than as his brother's job as a mortician. Richie's seafaring job also sets the story's first waves of action in motion, and helps us get to know the character right away. This line of work also runs in his family, and while I personally would never, ever go into that profession - I'm a vegetarian and supporter of animal rights - I like how it makes him feel connected to those who came before:
With the ocean breeze and tang of salt in the air...he felt as though his father and grandfather were still with him somehow. He liked that feeling.
My favorite line of the story is as follows:
The rules of the world as he'd understood them had been broken.
Official Book Flap Summary
It's October in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where Richie Feehan was born and raised and has lived his whole life. He's a part-time lobsterman and full-time painter who sells his art at galleries in Rockport and Newburyport. Between the two jobs he makes enough money to get by, living in an in-law apartment in the family home owned by his brother Jim. Jim runs Feehan & Sons Funeral Home, a business started by their grandfather in 1921.
All in all, despite the tension with his brother, and despite the grumbling of his friends, whose business has suffered because of a lengthy red tide and a spectacularly bad overall fishing season, Richie enjoys his life very much. He's content, and believes that's pretty much all a man can ask from his life.
That is, until a horrible mystery begins to unfold in Gloucester.
Out lobstering, Richie sees something nightmarish in the surf one day, catches a bare glimpse of it beneath the surface. He doesn't dare speak of it for fear of what others might say - he doesn't want to become the town crazy. But he's having a hard time sleeping at night, and several days later, while out hauling in his traps for the winter, Richie finds one of them stuck on something. When he finally hauls it up, there's a corpse attached, a corpse that has been eaten at by sea creatures, including something large . . . the corpse of Greta Wagner, a woman who had been waked at Feehan & Sons two weeks earlier and buried a couple of days later.
Someone stole her corpse from the ground.
And her grave won't be the only one disturbed.
"Golden's chilling novella is set in the fishing town of Gloucester, Massachusetts, where Richie Feehan divides his time between painting houses and trolling for lobsters, as the men in his family before him have done. One day, out on the sea collecting traps, Richie encounters a terrifying sight: a group of shells with glowing orbs that appear to be eyes resting in one of his traps. Richie throws it back into the ocean, but the memory of it haunts him. But when he spots his brother, Jim, who runs the other family business, Feehan & Sons Funeral Home, talking with police about a body disappearing from the graveyard, Richie never imagines the two things would be connected. A horrifying graveyard encounter with the entity known as the Shell Collector proves they are, however, and Richie realizes he must take action or risk losing someone close to him. Despite the tale's brevity, Golden vividly evokes life in a small fishing town and builds the suspense to a terrifyingly vivid conclusion."
Visit The Shell Collector page on Christopher Golden's website.