Book Review: PAPER GHOSTS by Julia Heaberlin

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This book is different from the thrillers I am used to. I found the plot unbelievable, but the book is very well-written, original, and intriguing and the characters are engaging and likable.

The protagonist is a young woman who uses fake names and tells the story in first person. Her sister, Rachel, disappeared twelve years before. A summer morning, she didn’t turn up at her babysitting job and she was never found. But the woman never gave up and spent the last twelve years doing her own investigation. Her research led her to Carl Louis Feldman, a photographer accused and then acquitted of the kidnapping of a woman, and suspected of the disappearance of other women. Now, Carl lives in a nursing home and suffers from early dementia. Pretending to be his daughter, the protagonist takes Carl on a ten-day drive around Texas, to places significant to these disappearances to try and retrieve his memory.

The characters are well-crafted and complex. Carl seems to play with the protagonist and he uses his dementia against the protagonist to get her to do what he wants. He has a sense of humour and the author gives him a human side, a side that makes him rescue a wounded dog and a cat with three legs. It’s difficult to describe him as a bad or good guy. The same can be said for the female protagonist. She is so obsessed in her search for the truth and justice that she becomes reckless. She’s been preparing for years and she has everything planned out for this trip. But, like Carl, she has a human side, too. She takes on Carl’s wounded dog, she pays for his bill at the vet, and she goes back to pay her debts.

“I’m feeling more vulnerable and insignificant as the bowl of Texas sky expands and I shrink.”

I really loved the descriptions of the Texan landscape. The descriptions are vivid and evocative and I could imagine it like a movie as Carl and the woman embark on this trip on the Lone Star state with only the company of a dog.

The narration is slow-paced but the tension is always high. There are pictures, extract from Carl’s photography book, pages from the protagonist’s journal, and flashbacks from the past that weave through the plot. PAPER GHOSTS is an immersive and compulsive read and I’d like to thank Gaby Young and Michael Joseph for providing me with an early copy of this thrilling novel.

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