Although Lisa Bradley’s thriller got off to a slow start, half way through it picked up to a truly astonishing pace and the novel takes unexpected turn after unexpected turn. You think you know what’s going on? Think again.
The Plot In a Nutshell
Leah’s been not working for a while now, ever since she took redundancy from her job as a local newspaper editor. A job at which she made one bad call. Over 15 years ago two girls, Hope and Tilly, separately went missing. Hope was white and from a good family, Tilly was black and from an estate. Leah chose (with hesitation) to put Hope on the front page and Tilly on page 18, assuming she was a runaway. Hope turned up a day later, Tilly was never found.
That call has now come back to haunt her.
After appearing on a Netflix documentary about the case, strange things start happening to Leah. She keeps having church candles appear in her home and paper dolls, cut from the newspapers the story was printed on.
Leah’s personal life also starts to fall apart. Her husband, Chris, doesn’t believe that someone is stalking her and a flirtation with the attractive dad from across the street is starting to get out of hand. Leah’s friend Bunty is on hand to help, but she may be more of a bad influence than a good one when it comes to “too much fun”.
Leah’s closest relationship, with her son Luke, is also causing her worries. Luke is 15 and she can’t help but worry about him, especially as he’s starting hanging out with two girls, and one looks strikingly like Tilly…
Leah has to put an end to the torment before it drives her crazy and destroys her relationships. But who is behind it all?
I wasn’t immediately gripped by Paper Dolls, there were a few things that nagged at me. I found the dialogue a bit cringe (and, yes, mums can be cringe!) but I thought it was maybe trying a bit hard to be “current”. I also wanted the story to move quicker at first, which is really hard to do when you’re writing a slow burner and you have a character who is essentially a stay-at-home mum. However, boy am I glad I stuck with it. Around 1100 pages in Paper Dolls really turned into the thriller I was looking for and I read the whole last half in ONE NIGHT.
Firstly, you have no idea who to trust. Chris, the husband, seems like a really nice guy, but he doesn’t believe Leah and seems to be almost gaslighting her, even suggesting she seek professional help. Leah’s attractive neighbour does believe her, but is he just using it to get closer to her? And what about Leah herself? Maybe she is losing her mind?
I loved the way Bradley wrote Leah and her son, Luke’s, relationship. They were clearly very close without it being over-played (again, some cringe dialogue here but I totally GET that when a mum is talking to her son.)
Leah’s relationship with Bunty, her best friend, is enjoyable. She’s almost the “comic” relief, but also has depth to her.
Of course, the main crux of Paper Dolls is the mystery and Bradley uses an issue that is a real issue (read this article about media bias towards white children by The Refinery). You’ve probably all heard of Maddie McCann but what about Asha Degree? The mystery starts subtly, with a few candles and paper dolls turning up, a cup of tea on the bedside table, the dog getting sick, but then esculates until Leah can no longer ignore the fact that someone is out to get her.
The last 100 pages or so are jam packed with action. Leah is spiralling and Bradley writes it so well. The action reaches a peak when all of the things she has been juggling collide and one of her worst fears comes to fruition when Luke is in danger. Leah has to race against time to both save him and prove herself. I was literally on the edge of my seat while I turned the last pages, and I don’t even usually like thrillers!
Speaking of the last pages, have you ever read a book (think Possession by A S Byatt) which has a good ending but a GREAT epilogue? Paper Dolls is like this – an epilogue that will make you question everything.
I’d recommend Paper Dolls to thriller fans and I think this would also be a great book club book, if you’re looking for one! Thank you Quercus Books for the ARC!