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Paper Ghosts by Julia Haeberlin

Updated: Jan 24, 2021

Publisher:                      Michael Joseph

Date of Publication:     19th April 2018

Date of Review:             10th April 2018


My Sister disappeared.  I know who took her.  Now I’ve taken him.

Carl Louis Feldman is an old man who once took photographs. That was before he was tried for murder and acquitted.  Before dementia and his admission to a Texas care facility. 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 woman driving the car is convinced he’s guilty, and that he’s killed other young women. Including her sister Rachel. Now they’re driving across Texas, following his photographs, his clues, his crimes. To see if he remembers any of it. To discover what 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 badlands she’s taking a terrible risk. For if Carl really is a serial killer, she’s alone in the most dangerous place of all . . .

My Review

I was drawn to this book by its intriguing  synopsis, not to mention its stunning book cover. Since the murder of her elder sister, Grace has been obsessed with bringing justice upon the killer. Carl is a sixty-two year old, once famous photographer, who was trialled but acquitted of the murder of a young woman called Nicole. Following his acquittal, he disappeared until he was found rambling the highway with no idea as to who he was. After being identified through DNA, and a diagnosis of dementia, Carl was placed in the only half-way house that would take him, where the other residents are all old felons with dementia.

Grace has found something that makes her believe Carl is her sister’s killer (I won’t say what as I don’t want to spoil it) and tracks him down to the half-way house.  She pretends to be his daughter, and after several visits says she wants to take him on holiday. Her plan is to take him on a road-trip, along with photographs he‘s taken, to places where he’s been suspected of killing women; in the hope this will jog his memory and make him confess to killing her sister.  But just who has the upper-hand, and who is deceiving who?

This first person narrative is mostly written through a stream of inner consciousness from Grace’s perspective, particularly during the first part of the novel. The narrative has a literary feel and the writing style reminded me a little of Katherine Mansfield. Whilst sparse to begin with, there is some poignant dialogue: ‘ “I need to know if you’re a killer. As your daughter, I need to know what kind of blood runs in my veins. You owe it to me.” The first and last line, at least is true’.  The narrative is rich in both imagery and analogy; and in parts, it did feel a little overwritten.

However, despite the promising synopsis, after reading 30% of this book, I was none the wiser as to what it was really about. Nothing had really happened, and I felt like I’d missed something. I wasn’t connecting with either of the characters, and for me, the literary feel made it a bit dull. Under Literature Love’s rating system, books I’m not able to finish are awarded just one star, and I really didn’t want to do that. I’d already fallen in love with the gorgeous red cover and really wanted to like this book. So I plodded on in the hope it would pick up. After 40%, I still couldn’t connect; so I started from the beginning again. Things were better this time. I slowed down my usual reading pace, and re-read any parts that threw me.

By the end of the book, I wouldn’t say I’d connected with the characters, but the relationship that grew between them was interesting. I still felt not a lot had happened regarding plot; this novel is definitely more character driven.  There were a few twists near the end, although the final ending was a bit disappointing.

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This book has been given 3 out of 5 stars.

This book was okay.

It’s recommended but with reservation.

Thank you to Julia Haeberlin, Penguin UK (Michael Joseph), and Netgalley, for this ARC copy in return for an honest and unbiased review.


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