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.
GHOSTLINES won the 2007 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, before being published by Scribe in 2008. It's the author's first novel, the tale of a profoundly flawed hero - journalist Philip Trudeau, a very driven man. Unfortunately a lot of that drive is self-destructive, but in Gadd's hands, Trudeau is a character who can engender sympathy and maintain the reader's interest and concern - despite those myriad and very obvious faults.
When a young boy is killed at a level crossing, Trudeau reports it initially as a tragic accident. He finds, when forced to dig a little further, that there is a lot more to why a young boy was mown down by a train, late at night, on his own, riding his pushbike as if he was very very scared. There are ghosts of other presences that night - and it's those ghostlines referenced in the name of the book that describes the investigation that Trudeau embarks on. There is just the hint of something more at the train line, and it often seems that Trudeau is the only person that is seeing the hints. That is, until he finds himself in peril, and he knows for sure that there was a lot more going on that night.
GHOSTLINES is a fascinating book. The use of a flawed hero is a well known device nowadays but it's not necessarily easy to pull off - an author can run the risk of turning off the reader, making his hero annoying or pathetic. Trudeau dances a line between truly annoying and frustrating and somebody who can engender, if not sympathy, than at least understanding. He's also a most unapologetic flawed hero - which helped for this reader at least. There is a little bit of the supernatural going on in the book, and that may be slightly offputting for the more traditional crime fan. The fact that GHOSTLINES is not about the gore or the traditional procedural in solving a mystery, and more about the psychology of our central character, makes the supernatural work as it becomes part of the thought process of Trudeau as he drags himself through his self-made mire. But that's also not completely fair - GHOSTLINES is dark and dire and sad and flat out miserable in some places, but it's not without hope. Personally I hope that Trudeau returns - I want to know what's happening to him.