Welcome to a weekly post, Throwback Thursday. This weekly book review post is a way to share some old favourites, books that were published over a year ago and most importantly those books that have been languishing on the to be read pile for far too long!
Winter in Sydney. The city is brimming with foreign students. Sophie Sandilands takes a job teaching at an English language school. When one of her students leaps to her death it becomes clear that lurking within the psyche of this community is a deep sense of despair and alienation. When it is revealed that the dead woman on the pavement has stolen another’s identity, Sophie is drawn into the mystery.
Unable to resist the investigative instincts that run in her blood, Sophie finds herself unravelling a sinister operation that is trawling the foreign student market for its victims. But as Sophie works on tracking down the criminals it becomes evident that someone has knowledge of her and the disappearances in her own past. Will Sophie solve the mystery before she too becomes a ghost?
Ghost Girls richly evokes the sights, smells, tastes and sounds of Sydney’s Chinatown, and imagines dark exploitative demands behind closed suburban doors.
The murky underworld of Sydney’s Chinatown district jumps off the pages of Australian author Cath Ferla’s debut novel, Ghost Girls. This riveting crime mystery novel explores the world of international students living in Sydney, exposing a dark side to the lives of students studying, working and living on our shores.
Ghost Girls begins in Sydney, during winter. Sophie Sandilands is a teacher at an English Language school. Sadly, when one of Sophie’s students falls to her death, Sophie begins to uncover a culture in Sydney that exposes a dark world of desperation. With the identity of the deceased young woman revealed as stolen, Sophie decides to dig further into this mystery, which has directly impacted the students of her school. Highly motivated to uncover the truth as to the dead woman’s identity and what drove her to her death, Sophie is lured into an investigation. She makes a startling discovery, learning how foreign students, such as those she teaches, have been lured into the promise of a quick buck – at a high cost. While Sophie tries to hunt down the criminals responsible for these operations, it becomes clear that she is getting too close to the truth. These figures will stop at nothing to protect their shonky dealings and make Sophie aware that they know all about her, as well as her painful past. Sophie must stop these deadly operations before she becomes another victim.
Ghost Girls is a book that has an immediate impact on the reader. The opening scenes soon lure you into the book. Ferla impressed me by her ability to transport the reader deep into the underbelly of Australia’s dark society. It is a lens that is dark, gritty and utterly believable. I believe this is fuelled by Cath Ferla’s dedication to her craft and her ability to draw on the extensive level of research she has conducted to inform her first novel.
Ghost Girls is a sensory overload. Expect all your senses to be activated in this culinary delight of a novel. Food and the art of cooking, namely Asian infused cuisine, features significantly in Ghost Girls. We are taken on a foodie adventure many times over during the course of the novel. Ferla vividly describes the sights, sounds and smells of the Chinatown food district. Never before has food and cooking had such an impact on me! I could easily visualise and almost taste many of the dishes described by Ferla. These sections of the narrative are by far the highlight of this novel and showcase Ferla’s descriptive prose.
Ferla’s character list is plentiful and well drawn. The lead, Sophie Sandilands is a wonderfully represented character, who has an interesting back story with slowly unravels as the novel gains momentum. I really enjoyed Sophie’s interactions with the supporting characters in this novel, both good and bad. The dialogue in Ghost Girls is defined and Ferla is able to convey each characters thoughts and feelings without having to use detailed and flowery descriptions. The short and succinct chapter style adopted by this book was appreciated by this reader.
There are whole host of themes that Cath Ferla explores within this engaging and layered crime mystery novel. For me, the plight of foreign students in Australia struck a chord. It is an area I really hadn’t thought of too much, but I’m glad Ferla explored this story. She also exposes exploitation, the sex trade, organised crime, fraud and prejudice. Ferla’s approach to weaving these serious issues into the one crime novel was riveting.
Overall, you can’t fault Cath Ferla’s plot for her debut novel, it is original, astute and involving. The reader is unable to take a back seat in this novel, Ferla ensures her audience is thoroughly involved in Sophie’s investigations, issuing plenty of plot twists and red herrings. When the book reaches its final stages, the action and intensity level ramps up a notch. I felt the ending was handled well and left Ferla with the room to continue on with her lead, Sophie Sandilands, in future books. I hope so! Don’t miss this exciting debut by an author to watch.
Ghost Girls by Cath Ferla was published on 1st March 2016 by Echo. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Ghost Girls, Cath Ferla, visit here.
Ghost Girls is book #61 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge