Book Review: Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin

Paper Ghosts - Julia Heaberlin

Some serious cover love going on here!


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


Grace is only pretending to be Carl’s daughter, is she driving across the state with a man with dementia, or with a serial killer? Perhaps the scariest option of all, both, because what unknown danger is she in if she triggers a memory and Carl’s serial killer instincts kick in? The need to know if Carl killed Grace’s sister was the driving force that kept me reading this book.

The pace was much slower than I anticipated, and the plot didn’t quite deliver the thrills I was expecting. I don’t think I managed to settle into the flow of this novel at all. I did like the interactions between Grace and Carl, they created a great sense of unease because you’re not sure if Carl was pretending or not, and his cryptic answers made you just as frustrated as they made Grace. Definitely some mind games on both parts at play. Paper Ghosts is a slow-burner, but I felt like the middle of the plot never really went anywhere, it was almost stuck on reply with these cryptic interactions, and while I did like them, movement in the plot was noticeably missing. There were moments of great tension, but nothing really came of them, which is shame because I wasn’t ever really able to immerse myself in the plot. I was so pumped at the beginning, but the inaction slowly caused my interest to deflate; by the time the ending came around, I just didn’t care about the outcome at all.

It didn’t help that I didn’t like Grace or Carl’s characters, and I don’t mean they’re characters ‘you love to hate’ but I genuinely didn’t like either one of them. And that made it hard for me to feel anything towards Grace’s paranoia, mostly I just thought her actions did not match all this training she talked about having prior to this escapade, she didn’t appear sharp or calculating or really show any cleverness beyond the norm, at all.

I did really like the photos included in this book, along and with the pages taken from Grace’s survival notebook, which she wrote when she was younger. I read an eBook edition of this book and I think in print form, they would really help bring the story to life. If you do read this book, be sure to read the Afterword, it does contain spoilers for the book so make sure you read it last, but I thought it contained some really interesting information.

Overall, I’m sad to say, this was not the book for me. I think Paper Ghosts could be a good fit for fans of Paul Cleave’s Trust No One. I loved Heaberlin’s previous novel, Black-Eyed Susans, so if you want to try her novels, that’s the one I’d recommend. While Paper Ghosts didn’t work for me, I would read another of her novels, in fact, I have one of her backlist books on my shelf, Lie Still, so hopefully I’ll have better luck with that one.

Side Note: I’m wondering if crime/thriller books with dementia as a theme aren’t for me… I’ve read this one, Trust No One by Paul Cleave and Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, and I didn’t enjoy any of them. I think if dementia is going to be incorporated as a theme, it needs to be outside of crime fiction, for me anyway 🤔

This book is available to but from Amazon UK / Book Depository

*My thanks to the publisher (Michael Joseph) for granting me access to a digital copy of this title via Netgalley*

18 thoughts on “Book Review: Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin

  1. Is it Texas week on your blog too?! I thought it was just me with all the Texas-centered stories at the moment! lol 🙂 I agree, the idea of dementia as a crime fiction theme isn’t such a strong one, almost seems kind of a cheat, I remember reading that about Elizabeth is Missing. Disappointing, hope your next read is better!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha!
      I love unreliable narrators in crime fiction, but I’m definitely more of a “they forget because they have an alcohol problem”, than a “they forget because of dementia” person, I always think there’s a darker reason for drinking to forget so I find it more gripping. I doubt I’ll read another crime book with this theme.

      I’m switching it up totally with a YA fantasy novel at the moment, I need something light to lose my self in – I’m still not over Trafficked Girl yet!


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