Paper Tigers by Damien Angelica Walters

Paper Tigers by Damien Angelica Walters4 out of 5 stars

I’m usually not a horror guy.

However, when a Dark House Press title showed up on my doorstep, I decided it was as good of a time as any to try something unusual.

“In this haunting and hypnotizing novel, a young woman loses everything–half of her body, her fiancé, and possibly her unborn child–to a terrible apartment fire. While recovering from the trauma, she discovers a photo album inhabited by a predatory ghost who promises to make her whole again, all while slowly consuming her from the inside out.”

Paper Tigers echoed The Others for me. DECADE OLD SPOILER ALERT: A protagonist caught in what they perceive is a haunted house. In reality, they are the intruders, the ones disturbing the undead. Walters doesn’t use the shocking twist, though. She gives her broken main character agency and uses the house as a metaphor for Alison’s struggle to heal herself.

The standout in this book was the authenticity, as much as you can have authenticity in a story about a predatory ghost trying to trap someone in a photo album. Alison’s introversion as a result of her horrifying scars felt incredibly crippling. The need to recharge alone after something so simple as taking a few steps outside. The desire to avoid human contact, even with someone you love dearly.

I particularly enjoyed the nuanced relationship with her mother, who had her own struggle between wanting to help Allison return to some version of the person she was before and failing to respect her daughters need for space and time to process.

While I appreciate a good surprise as much as anyone, Paper Tigers felt like it could have ended earlier. Without spoiling the end of the book, the main storyline that had already come to a close felt like a false ending. In the case of Paper Tigers, I think Walters didn’t go surprising enough, instead trying to rekindle story out of an otherwise satisfying ending.

Walters prose sucks you in with vivid descriptions that build setting around all the senses. The smell of tobacco, the tautness of scar tissue: many times I found myself simply enjoying the picture she was painting. In a critical scene near the end of the book, Walters delivers masterfully on what I expect horror to be – unsettling, uncomfortable, and placing a character on that delicate knife edge of escape and completely losing themselves.

As a casual horror fan, I found a lot to enjoy in this novel.
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