Paper Ghosts: A Novel of Suspense by Julia Heaberlin

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Lying is a delightful thing, for it leads to truth. That’s Dostoyevsky.

This is a heck of a suspense story about a serial killer who may or may not have dementia. Can you ever really trust a killer? Sure, he’s an old man but isn’t dementia a convenient illness for someone with a lot of sins to hide? Carl Louis Feldman was a celebrated photographer, but it’s the girls he photographed that captivates the young woman who arrives at the half-way house where he lives claiming to be his daughter. She is going to take him on a trip to ‘dig up’ his lost memories of his darkness, and find out what happened to her beloved sister Rachel who disappeared when she herself was just a kid.  “Death came to her like a summer’s dream.” Her years have been haunted by not knowing what happened, if she is dead or alive. An adult now, her obsession has driven her to deceive old Carl, but is his mind really filled with holes or is it just another deception in a dark life? He isn’t a fool, nor does he trust her. Her sister climbed out of a grave once, just what will Carl reveal, will she rise again?

With photographs as clues and with Carl in tow, she is going to unravel the great horrific mystery of her life. Though during his trial for another crime he was found not guilty and went into hiding, she always knew he’d ‘crawl out.’ Never could she have imagined she would become his ‘daughter’. He wants things, and only then will he help her. He tells her it’s an exercise in madness, he doesn’t remember! Then he gives her the list, and she will give in to his demands. He starts playing with her, leaving her little gifts meant to frighten her, and it works. There are flashbacks to her memories of Rachel, and now with Carl sharing her space, she is remembering things that once seemed inconsequential. She won’t be cowed by Carl, she knows her power is in never showing her fear, never flinching in his presence, never letting him know his effect on her. With two fingers on her flesh he says, “Bump, bump. That’s your carotid.” It just shows how he loves mind games, and a woman’s fear. She plays the game right back.

She wants to know everything, even if she risks her own neck. I didn’t have a clue how this story would end, not what I expected at all. It’s scores points for originality with the dementia angle. I really liked Black-Eyed Susans by Heaberlin, this one is a bit slower but still an interesting story. He is a killer, how the hell do you cozy up to a killer who plays the liar’s game so much better than you? They are both screwed up, and is strange to see how much she has in common with him. The story is more about their psyche than any of his victims, her sister included. Sometimes the answer is worse than what you thought you knew. The memories of a chid are distorted to begin with, colored by rage and grief carried into adulthood and truth becomes a murky diseased artifact. What has Carl done? Does he really have no memory of her sister because of his dementia, or is there something else?

Without a doubt one of the strangest books about a killer I’ve read in a long time.

Publication Date: May 15, 2018

Random House

Ballantine Books

 

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