Optioned by AMC for television
Finalist for Best Hardcover Novel for the 2019 International Thriller Writers Awards

Paper Ghosts

“(An) artful and elegiac psychological thriller.”
—Publishers Weekly starred review

Sunday Times of London Thriller of the Month
LibraryReads Top Ten pick for May
RT Reviews Top Pick for May

More media praise


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.


“The author wields words like weapons, with each one chosen to heighten tension, underscore emotion, or foreshadow doom. Keen character work further distinguishes the tale …. Heaberlin brilliantly combines travelogue with a heartbreaking portrait of the damage done by childhood trauma.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review (read the full review)

“A rich hybrid work that’s at once a zany, dialogue-propelled two-hander, a murder mystery, a road novel, a pair of psychological case studies and a meditation on photography. It would make a fine indie movie, although screen adaptation would entail sacrificing Heaberlin’s evocative prose.”
—Sunday Times of London, Thriller of the Month (read the full review)

“The tension crackles on the page…Heaberlin writes with passion and poetry about Texas, photography and the tragedy and comedy of dementia. As with her previous novel, Black Eyed Susans, it elevates the often tawdry genre of the serial killer novel to a work of art.”
—The Sunday Express (UK), five stars (read the full review)

“I kept thinking of (Patricia) Highsmith while reading Paper Ghosts … Heaberlin isn’t as grimly fatalistic…her books pop with bursts of off-kilter humor…[she] anchors her books with troubled but endearingly badass women. Think Amy Schumer’s character in Trainwreck, except with guns and the greater possibility of redemption. Yet like Highsmith, Heaberlin displays a keen grasp of the casual cruelty that defines human interaction, not to mention a flair for stories in which no one—least of all the protagonist—can be trusted…Texas has yet again bred a major American noir writer.”
—D Magazine (read the full review)

“You’ll enjoy the journey and all its macabre side trips. You’ll love the travel commentary written in Heaberlin’s lean, muscular prose…. Signposts along the way warn of angst, secrets and deadly plot twists, but you’ll never see what’s coming. You’ll step out of this fictional vehicle feeling like you’ve been T-boned by an 18-wheeler.”
—The Washington Post

“This outstanding thriller will blow you out of your lawn chair.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Strong characterization, haunting images, a wonderful sense of place, and dark comedy make this travelogue-cum-psychological thriller well worth the read.”
—The Guardian

Paper Ghosts is top-notch suspense, a dangerous game of hide-and-go-seek, masterfully crafted … Heaberlin conjures a foreboding atmosphere of exquisite tension…. Clues are dark, thin threads in a tangled bird’s nest; this is a mystery requiring your attention.”
—Michelle Newby, Lone Star Literary Life (read the full review)

“Beautifully written and wonderfully chilling.”
Sarah Pinborough, author of the New York Times bestseller Behind Her Eyes

Paper Ghosts is an exceptional read, with a deftly woven plot—a book to devour in one sitting. This is breathless storytelling at its very best, with a deeply satisfying ending which will give books groups—and all your friends, when you recommend it—much to discuss.”
—Elizabeth Haynes, New York Times bestselling author of Into the Darkest Corner

“This book haunted me. Such a gripping exploration of obsession and loss: of those we love, but also our memories and sense of self. The writing is beautiful and chilling, laced with a subtle dark humour, and the multiple twists build to a perfect icy shiver of an ending. I loved it!”
—C J Tudor, author of The Chalk Man

“Heaberlin’s new psychological suspense novel takes readers across the vast and changing landscape of Texas, a perfect backdrop to the deteriorating mind of suspected killer Carl Louis Feldman. The timing is perfect, the layers of the story both peel away and deepen as the search into the mind of a killer takes turns no one is expecting.“
—RT Reviews (Top Pick for May)

“Heaberlin’s spot-on depiction of mental anguish, her careful creation of characters who are mean and troubled yet compelling, and an unexpected twist at the end make this a winner; suggest it especially to patrons who like a Texas backdrop and or the work of Megan Abbott.”
—Booklist (Henrietta Verma)

“Julia Heaberlin’s Paper Ghosts is a stunner; a creepy, complicated thriller that crawls under your skin from the outset; the kind of ‘there’s no way is going to end well’ story in which you know that what the character is doing is a very, very bad idea, but you can’t look away. A chilling, nuanced, just-one-more-page thriller from a master of psychological suspense.”
—Karen Dionne, author of The Marsh King’s Daughter

Paper Ghosts tackles the distressing subject of murder, and also dementia, with sensitivity and respect. The light and shade in the writing is mesmeric. Utterly compelling. I’m convinced if everybody had a Barfly in their life, the world would be a better place!”
—Ali Land, author of Good Me Bad Me

“With prose as sharp and flinty as the book’s protagonist, Paper Ghosts takes a deep dive into the murky well of moral ambiguity as one woman’s obsession with her missing sister collides with a serial killer’s dementia over the course of a thrill packed road trip deep in the heart of Texas. A novel that brilliantly asks you to question everything you see (and don’t see) around you.”
—Nina Sadowsky, author of Just Fall and The Burial Society

“Julia Heaberlin’s Paper Ghosts is the spellbinding, brilliantly original story of a young woman desperate to find her missing sister and the man she suspects knows the truth, joined together on a perilous journey as elusive and mysterious as the paper ghosts that lure them. Heaberlin’s love for Texas spills across every page.”
—Carla Buckley, author of The Good Goodbye

Paper Ghosts’ heroine cons a suspected serial killer claiming dementia into joining her on a road trip, in the hope of triggering his memories—and confessions—of what happened to several missing women. Their journey hurtles through Heaberlin’s vivid Texas towards a surprising and satisfying conclusion, guided by clues in enigmatic photographs. The trip is engrossing, tense, and tightly-written, with a luminous sense of place.”
—Emily Winslow, author of the Keene and Frohmann Mysteries