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Ghostlines by Nick Gadd
From the Dustjacket
Philip Trudeau, a once-respected investigative journalist, has stepped on the wrong toes. With his personal life and health deteriorating around him, he is consigned to a suburban newspaper where he writes 'filler' local news articles to be slotted in among the real-estate and restaurant advertisements. Sent to cover what appears to be a tragic-yet-routine death at a level crossing, Philip is drawn into a multilayered mystery that involves art theft, political intrigue and business corruption...not to mention murder.
Publisher : Scribe Publications
First published : 2008
ISBN : 9781921372049
No. Pages : 283 pages
The most rewarding types of books are often the ones you start, knowing very little about only to be very pleasantly surprised by the totality with which you are engaged by the story. Ghostlines is that kind of book and Nick Gadd has created a fascinating thriller in this debut novel.
Phillip Trudeau is a man filled with self-loathing. He is a former Walkley Award winning journalist now in disgrace working the local interest beat at a suburban newspaper. His nights are whiskey soaked as he sits in the dark listening to Coltrane wondering how things could have gone so badly wrong.
He attends the scene of a level-crossing accident involving a boy on a bicycle, a horrific accident but Phillip is so used to such scenes that he simply goes through the motions in order to submit the story. He gets enough to write a bare bones story involving the usual kind of "How do you feel?" type of questions.
Just as he is preparing to call it a night his attention is taken by someone at the scene. A woman who appears deeply distraught by the boy's death, although to his knowledge she is not related to or connected to him. He decides to wander over to question her. When his quiet questions finally get through to her, her reaction is extreme and she suddenly flees. It's an unusual enough reaction to send his almost-forgotten investigative instincts into action.
Rather than let the story sit he begins digging and finds himself crossing paths with an art dealer who makes it clear that his attention is not welcome. Some people don't like reporters but very few will ring the head of the corporation to warn off their journalists. Phillip senses he's onto a story that's bigger than the tragic accident that started it.
Ghostlines is the debut novel by Nick Gadd. It is richly ethereal, which in one respect the title suggests it will be. It is also dense with raw emotion and fronted by a protagonist who has suffered some harsh setbacks in his life brought on by a determination that was too strong for his own good. Just as the investigation appears to be bearing some real fruit his editor warns him off the story, but the stubborn streak that got him into trouble years before surfaces and drives him on to break the rules, risking his job and his health.
A lonely old man with a house that is overflowing with worthless junk and an idea that his life is worthy of documenting in a memoir had hired Phillip years before to write his biography. It was a job that Phillip never finished - one of many. Now, in an eerie circular coincidence the same man has a connection to the tragic railway crossing accident that has now captured his attention.
The link is an art group from the 1950s, The Maribyrnong Group and the work of one of its members who later went on to produce some works of distinction and acclaim. Phillip's digging, though, has him stepping on the toes of the rich and powerful and ruthless.
Ghostlines is a powerful novel evoking strong feelings of sympathy for Trudeau even while it is plainly obvious that at times he can be his own worst enemy. On more than one occasion I found myself becoming impatient with him when he chose to confront people he knew to be dangerous armed only with the threat of revealing what he suspected in his paper. When you lead with your chin you should expect to get knocked out and, at times, the results were entirely predictable.
However, this only served to reinforce the strength of belief in what drove Trudeau forward, a quality that few appreciated least of all, I suspect, himself. This is a story that takes some surprising directions while remaining true to the solid theme of the forthright defender of justice duking it out with opponents capable of crushing him completely.
Nick Gadd earned the 2007 Victorian Premiers Literary Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript with Ghostlines. The haunting notes of Coltrane are well suited to the background mood of the story. There is a true desperation in Trudeau as he finds himself touched in ways that he was unprepared for. He is haunted by artists from the past and a woman from the present. This is a memorable novel, rich of character and powerful of voice.
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