Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin

Book Review

Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin - Reading, Writing, Booking

"...there is this terrible, wonderful novel in every human being."

Paper Ghosts will be published in the UK on 19th April 2018. It is written by Julia Heaberlin and published by Michael Joseph.

I was really excited to read Julia Heaberlin's new book as I loved Black-Eyed Susans. Paper Ghosts is both recognisably Heaberlin and also very different. It's not like anything I've ever read, it's a road trip, character exploration and serial killer thriller whirlwind, one which I enjoyed.

Carl Louis Feldman is an old man who was once a celebrated photographer.
That was before he was tried for the murder of a young woman and acquitted.
Before his admission to a care home for dementia .
Now his daughter has come to see him, to take him on a trip.
Only she's not his daughter and, if she has her way, he's not coming back . . .
Because Carl's past has finally caught up with him. The young woman driving the car is convinced her passenger is guilty, and that he's killed other young women. Including her sister Rachel.
Now they're following the trail of his photographs, his clues, his alleged crimes. To see if he remembers any of it. Confesses to any of it. To discover what really happened to Rachel.
Has Carl truly forgotten what he did or is he just pretending? Perhaps he's guilty of nothing and she's the liar.
Either way in driving him into the Texan wilderness she's taking a terrible risk.
For if Carl really is a serial killer, she's alone in the most dangerous place of all . . .

The relationship between Carl and the woman posing as his daughter (whose name you only learn at the end) is at the heart of the book, as is the question of whether Carl is really guilty or not. It starts off with the girl simply hating him but works into something a lot more complex as secrets are revealed and difficulties overcome. That makes it sound a bit schmaltzy, but it's not, I don't think Paper Ghosts is quite as dark as Black-Eyed Susans but there is an unease and sometimes an even spooky feeling running through it.

The theme of sisters is one that is very popular at the moment in the thriller world and I was a bit wary of reading yet another story of an awkward little sister trying to find the murderer of her more popular sister. However, Paper Ghosts, while it is based on this premise, goes beyond it and is a lot more mature in tackling the subject than some books. It is also only one of many themes twisting through the book.

The setting is another theme. The book is an ode to Texas, both the good and the bad and seedy side. It's also a road trip novel which is done well and allows the characters to really stew and develop.

The two main characters are strong, Carl being my favourite. He is twisty and difficult to pin down, even at the end. Heaberlin is also good at writing secondary charcaters, infusing life into brief appearances, like Mrs T, owner of the home that Carl lives in.

In some places the story does get slightly unbelievable, I suppose some would argue that the whole premise is unbelievable. I particularly found some parts of the girl's background and preparation for this trip hard to swallow.

However, embrace the crazy elements and this is a great read, backed up by excellent writing and characterisation.

My Rating: 4 Stars

I received a copy of Paper Ghosts, via NetGalley, in return for an honest review. My thanks to the author and publisher.

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Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin - Reading, Writing, Booking

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