Cath Ferla has taken the road less travelled in her debut novel, Ghost Girls. The book is set in contemporary Chinatown in Sydney and holds nothing back in its depiction of foreign students caught up in illegal prostitution and sex work as well as visa fraud. This novel feels quite real and is a promising mystery/crime book that contains a very interesting star in protagonist, Sophie Sandilands.
The author of Ghost Girls has worked professionally as a writer for 15 years in a variety of different platforms. Ferla has also contributed to TV Series like Sea Patrol and Special Rescue Ops. She is also a qualified teacher and is interested in Chinese culture. Ghost Girls draws upon some of her knowledge and experience while also being utterly believable.
The novel begins with ESL teacher, Sophie Sandilands returning to Sydney from China in order to escape the ghosts of her past. One of Sandilands’s students will commit suicide by jumping off a tall building. This is sad enough in and of itself but the language school soon learn that the student was an imposter. This discovery leads Sophie on a wild investigation into Sydney’s very own underbelly.
In Ghost Girls Ferla’s prose is efficient and descriptive but not too flowery. The ways she describes food is a particular highlight because it is so evocative you can almost imagine sitting down and sharing a dish or two with her. There are some moments however, when some further explanation would have benefited the narrative, especially when the reader is trying to understand Sophie’s motivations and why she is so tenacious in solving the mystery. The book does answer many of the questions raised, but some elements are not resolved as neatly as they could have been.
Ghost Girls is a compelling mystery book that lifts the curtain on a dark side of Sydney that is not often discussed. Ferla’s book is vivid at conjuring up these raw and dark elements and readers will no doubt want to hear more about the strong lead character, Sophie Sandilands. In all, this book may not be perfect but it does offer a fresh and fast-paced tale that should challenge the reader to think twice about what things may be happening under their own eyes and in their very own backyards.
***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a The Reading Room giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.thereadingroom.com/book/ghost-girls/9599495/