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Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin

Paper Ghosts

by Julia Heaberlin

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
13118141,473 (3.23)6
"A gripping thriller about a man who may or may not have dementia--and who may or may not be a serial killer--from a master of twists and turns, in the tradition of Laura Lippman and Gillian Flynn An obsessive young woman has been waiting half her life--since she was twelve years old--for this moment. She has planned. Researched. Trained. Imagined every scenario. Now she is almost certain the man who kidnapped and murdered her sister sits in the passenger seat beside her. Carl Louis Feldman is a documentary photographer. The young woman claims to be his long-lost daughter.He doesn't believe her. He claims no memory of murdering girls across Texas, in a string of places where he shot eerie pictures. She doesn't believe him. Determined to find the truth, she lures him out of a halfway house and proposes a dangerous idea: a ten-day road trip, just the two of them, to examine cold cases linked to his haunting photographs. Is he a liar or a broken old man? Is he a pathological con artist? Or is she? Julia Heaberlin once again swerves the serial killer genre in a new direction. With taut, captivating prose, Heaberlin deftly explores the ghosts that live in our minds--and the ones that stare back from photographs. You won't see the final, terrifying twist spinning your way until the very last mile. Praise for Black-Eyed Susans "A masterful thriller. brilliantly conceived, beautifully executed. [Julia] Heaberlin's work calls to mind that of Gillian Flynn. Both writers published impressive early novels that were largely overlooked, and then one that couldn't be: Flynn's Gone Girl and now Heaberlin's Black-Eyed Susans. Don't miss it."--The Washington Post "[A] gem of a novel. richly textured, beautifully written. The plot twists feel earned as well as genuinely surprising."--The Boston Globe "A tense, slow-burning, beautifully written novel of survival and hope."--William Landay, New York Times bestselling author of Defending Jacob "Deliciously twisty and eerie, Heaberlin's third psychological suspense novel is intricately layered and instantly compelling."--Library Journal (starred review) "A breakout book."--Fort Worth Star-Telegram "Breathtakingly, heart-stoppingly brilliant."--Sophie Hannah, New York Times bestselling author of The Monogram Murders "A terrific plot, matched by the quality of the writing and superbly paced tension."--The Times (U.K.)"--"An elderly man with dementia, once acquitted of a terrible murder and suspected in many others, is removed from his assisted-living facility by a woman he does not recognize--a woman who claims to be his long-lost daughter. She takes him on a road trip across Texas, searching for answers to her own burning questions. Following the paths of vanished women, she attemps to discover the truth about this man. Does he really have dementia? Is he a murderer? What secrets lurk in the dark corners of his disintegrating mind?"--… (more)



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Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
I was drawn to this book by the amazing cover and that the setting was Texas. This book started out really good to me but as it went on I got a bit bored with it. I did however listen partly to the audiobook so I don't know if that affected my opinion. I did like the original storyline but I think I just didn't really care much for any of the characters.

( )
  debbiebellows | Jun 1, 2019 |
This is a well written psychological thriller that had me practically inhaling it in one sitting. The plot was well written and the characters were so well developed they could be real people! I loved this book and look forward to this authors next book. ( )
  fictionalblonde | Apr 10, 2019 |

Why did I read this book? I had read the author’s previous book, “Black-Eyed Susans” and enjoyed it very much. Secondly, I read a rather favorable review in the Washington Post that, while warning of slow going through much of the story, claimed it ends with a climax akin to being t-boned by an 18-wheeler. And finally, I felt that it was time for me to read some crime fiction and there didn’t seem to be better alternatives at the moment.

I was disappointed in “Paper Ghosts” for three reasons. First, the plot was very improbable. I never bought into the likelihood of several key threads ever happening, even in Texas. More on this below. Secondly, the story was very slow, and very dull. There was very little tension throughout. And as for the climax, it was more like a parking lot fender bender. I just wanted to be done with the book and wound up pacing myself by force reading 30 pages a day just to get to the end. Thirdly, reading this book felt like watching a movie where every scene is enveloped in fog. It was never clear to me what the narrator intended to do when she arrived at the truth she was anticipating. The soundtrack on this movie occasionally fluttered so I felt like I had missed something on occasion. Maybe this was by design, maybe it was me, but I felt the author was going for “literary” more than telling a story that would grab her readers.

I’ve saved the plot for last. I don’t think there are any spoilers ahead, but I’ll write more detail than I usually do. Grace, the narrator, now in her early 20’s is the younger sister of Rachel, a college age woman who disappeared one day and was never seen again. The suspected killer is Carl, now somewhat demented and living in a halfway house. Grace arrives at the residence claiming to be Carl’s daughter, and arranges a 10 day release; her intent is to draw out a confession. But then, what? (She carries a gun but apparently a lot of Texas girls carry a gun). Carl goes along with her story, in part to be free of his confinement, but also out of curiosity. And so, a road trip of sorts begins, criss-crossing Texas, visiting locales of other girls who have disappeared under circumstances somewhat similar to the sister. The encounters with victims’ families and friends could have been special, but weren’t. And the epilogue was a bit over the top.

So back to the basic plot – young woman creates a situation where she is alone with a suspected killer, in a car for 10 days passing through desolate country……for some reason I just couldn’t buy into that setup…. ( )
  maneekuhi | Jul 6, 2018 |
I just spent a week in Texas, including a family reunion in Waco, where Heaberlin’s book begins, and am happy to report that trip was nothing like this story, a battle of wits between a woman and a really creepy protagonist.
Grace is twenty-four and obsessed with finding out what happened to her only sister Rachel, who disappeared when Grace was twelve. What ignited her search was finding a photograph of two ethereal girls taped to the bottom of their home’s attic stairs. The photographer, Carl Feldman, was later tried and acquitted in another local woman’s disappearance, although suspicions about him never went away. Heaberlin masterfully weaves this backstory through the narrative— enlightening, coloring, providing motivation.
Diagnosed with dementia, the elderly Carl now lives in a halfway house run by Mrs. T. Grace poses as Carl’s daughter to persuade Mrs. T to let her take him on a “vacation.” In reality, she plans to revisit places where three young women disappeared, hoping to break through the tattered veil of confusion that Carl pulls over himself. He’s just lucid and insightful enough to know what Grace is up to, to go along with the deception, and to toy with her mercilessly.
Grace’s personal safety trainer has readied her to handle the tricks Carl might try. Most important, she’s worked on conquering fear. You see pages from her childhood “survival notebook,” which contained her strategies for conquering various fears, like spiders or ghosts. Charming, but more important, these entries show an organized determination that foreshadows the adult Grace will become.
Mrs. T gives her ten days, at which time she absolutely must return Carl to the halfway house. Ten days in a car with a possible serial killer, in motel rooms at night, in situations where he may say who knows what? Carl is infinitely unpredictable. And sneaky.
Around day four or five, you may wonder whether Heaberlin’s inventiveness will run out, whether the diaristic recitation of their doings will wear thin. It never does. Her writing style is rich with metaphors tied to Carl’s strong identity as a photographer. In his photos, his paper ghosts, much is revealed, and much is hidden.
This risky roadtrip through a nightmare Texas doesn’t deflect Grace from the fundamental question, what happened to Rachel? And does Carl even know? And if he doesn’t, or if he’s overtaken by dementia, will she ever find out? You keep turning pages to find out. ( )
  Vicki_Weisfeld | Jun 18, 2018 |
By all accounts, Paper Ghosts should be a good novel. With its cat-and-mouse tale between potential serial killer and potential victim/victim’s sister, you would think this would be a novel that gets your heart pounding and your pulse racing. This should be a book you read in one sitting. And yet, it is anything but that.

Instead, it is a novel that is so introspective that it is boring. It is a novel you question why you are reading it because nothing happens for the first half of the book. You spend so much time in the narrator’s head, and she spends most of the time rehashing the steps she took to prepare her for this journey, that you wonder whether there is any point to the story. You question where the suspense is and contemplate quitting the story multiple times.

It mildly improves once you reach the halfway point, and if you make it that far you continue only because you want closure. Yet the closure you receive is inadequate, open-ended and leaving room for a potential sequel you have no interest in reading. It leaves you disappointed that there is not more there to capture your interest and to create tension. You regret the decision to keep reading it because the fizzle at the end is not what you hoped would happen.

Having not read Ms. Heaberlin’s first novel but having read many a gushing review of it, I had high hopes about Paper Ghosts. Perhaps that is the issue, but I suspect not. The story is not set up to be a psychological thriller given the interplay between the two characters, yet that is exactly what Ms. Heaberlin ended up writing. We are in the narrator’s head too much, which cancels out the little action that occurs and creates an unending series of disappointments as the story never takes off the way it should. I do plan to go back and read that first novel of hers one day, if only to compare the two novels. However, Paper Ghosts left such a poor impression that I am unfortunately hesitant to read anything else she might write in the future.
  jmchshannon | Jun 14, 2018 |
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A picture is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know. -Diane Arbus
For Steve who never gave up on me or the Cubs
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When she was twelve, my sister fell into a grave.
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