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Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin

One morning when Grace is twelve her older sister, Rachel, leaves for her baby sitting job. Between their home and where she is expected there are only three miles for her to ride on her bicycle but she goes missing.

The personal loss of her sister and the mystery of her disappearance continues to deeply affect Grace into her adulthood, so much so that she continues to search for the possibilities involved in Rachel’s failure to return home that day. Did she run away or was she taken? Could she still be alive?

The discovery of a photograph taken by Carl Louis Feldman, a renowned photographer and accused serial killer, convinces Grace that he is responsible for the loss of her sister. She spends years attempting to track him down and then, once she finds him, makes meticulous plans to confirm her suspicions. Carl now has dementia and is living in a half way house. Grace, pretending to be his estranged daughter, persuades both the house’s supervisor and Carl himself to agree to the journey that ostensibly will be an opportunity for father/daughter bonding but, in fact, will give Grace the chance to prove his guilt.

The basic premise of ‘Paper Ghosts’ is both novel and chilling. As Grace and Carl embark on and experience their eight day journey together the tension steadily grows to an almost unbearable pitch. Carl is a highly skilled game player. His ability to ‘read’ people is terrifying. Is he really suffering from dementia or is this a ploy of manipulation and subterfuge? Grace is clever but is she clever enough to protect herself? Will she find the truth about her sister?

Moving between the present and the past, beautifully and lyrically written, the novel is divided into eight main sections tracing each day of this compelling journey. While the truth of Rachel’s disappearance is finally discovered it is a different truth than Grace expected and blends with other equally unexpected truths along the way.

Reviewer: Paddy Richardson

Penguin Random House, RRP $37.00


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