PAPER GHOSTS - by Julia Heaberlin

PAPER GHOSTS - Julia Heaberlin
Published: April 2018 - Penguin.
Genres: Adult / thriller / mystery / contemporary
Pages: 368.
Triggers/Content Advisory: Sexual innuendos. Mature themes.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Thank you so much to Penguin Random House SA for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.

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 . . .

A few months ago I read Black Eyed Susans by Heaberlin and didn't think much of it. But when I saw the synopsis for Paper Ghosts, I couldn't resist. It looked so, so good. And unique.

Heaberlin's writing was the one thing I loved about Black Eyed Susans, and in Paper Ghosts it's equally - if not more - beautiful. The descriptions are palpable with some deliciously unique metaphors and similes (eg: "A faint slice of light spills like bleach..." ); the dialogue is biting and realistic; and Heaberlin's real genius lies in how specific her language is. Her scenes come to life because she takes them in with every sense she has. She delves into the tiny details, and she's vigilant of every necessary prop. The scenes are so fleshed out because she pays attention. It's incredible. It's incredible, without boring you. 

Like her descriptions, Heaberlin's story is concrete. It's tirelessly researched, and again, Heaberlin proves that detail matters. Her story becomes three-dimensional because she digs into the scene. She's has crafted a mesmerising world - she's peeled away the superficial and heightened what we subconsciously know is there, but have never noticed.

If I've learned anything, it's that every lost girl has exactly the same value.

The plot is slow. Don't expect bloodcurdling action or scream worthy twists, because you'll be disappointed. The mystery is breathtakingly clever, but its twists aren't always obvious and its climax isn't horrifying. It's understated. It's severely intelligent, but it's not altogether shocking.
I admit I was bored for a lot of the book. Only around page 200 did I start loving it, and from then on I definitely felt more invested. So yes, it may take a while for you to get into the story, but it doesn't mean you aren't reading quality from start to finish. At the end of it all, you'll probably find yourself deeply appreciating the book. I loved it by the end.

The characters, including the unnamed heroine (we only learn her name towards the end of the story) are unreliable. This makes for fantastic suspense and unsettling company. Carl is a messed-up creep, but there's something mysterious about him. The heroine is a woman burdened by her sister's disappearance, but she's also rather unhinged. I ended up loving her and her arc.

Paper Ghosts is as sinister as the title implies. It's a slow, unique, and steadily disturbing thriller with unnerving characters, exquisitely penned  by an extremely talented author.  

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