Review: Help for the Haunted by John Searles

September 9, 2013 Mystery/Suspense, Review, William Morrow 3

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (September 17, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0060779632
  • Source: Publisher

Sylvie Mason’s parents don’t have traditional occupations. Instead, they are demonologists, helping those haunted from spirits beyond seek peace.  It was pretty normal for them to receive calls late at night, but one night, they receive a more pressing call. They wake Sylvie from her sleep to join them as they drive to a church across town. They enter and Sylvie falls back asleep waiting for them to return. She’s awakened by an earth-shattering scream.  Sylvie doesn’t recall much about what happened once she walked through the doors of the church, the shock of discovering her parents brutally murdered leaves her memories spotty at best.

A year later, Sylvie is under the care of her older sister, Rose. The conditions are less than desirable: Rose refuses to accept the meals left by strangers on their front porch for fear they are poisoned. Despite getting money that should be put toward food and clothing for Sylvie, they mostly sustain on popsicles for dinner and, despite the chill fall temperatures, Sylvie’s wardrobe consists of tank tops, capris, and flip-flops.  Sylvie is a loner, many of her classmates bully her,  making fun of her deceased parents’ occupation and speculating as to the contents of her parents’ basement workplace. Not helping the situation is Sylvie’s feeling that Rose is somehow responsible for what happened to their parents.

Soon after her parents’ death, Sylvie identified a man responsible for the killings.  This man, a former client of the Mason’s, is angered about what transpired while his daughter was under their care. At the time, he had no alibi but suddenly not one, but several, have appeared. Sylvie is forced to confront what she recalls happening that fateful evening. She only has a few days to provide the prosecutor with a decision about her testimony. What she uncovers is far more haunting than the spirits her parents faced.

Help for the Haunted is not only a chilling thriller, but also a coming-of-age novel about a young girl forced to question everything she has believed to be true about her parents and their unusual occupation.  Going in, I thought this novel, compared to the likes of Stephen King, would have more of a horror feel to it. Instead, I was surprised to discover that while it does deal with hauntings, they are of a more personal or “ghosts in the closet” sort of spirits.  That’s not to say there isn’t a supernatural edge to this novel, but the title Help for the Haunted alludes more to the living than the dead.

What makes this novel stand out to me, personally, is how invested I became in Sylvie’s character. At fourteen (the same age as my son) she’s just entering a phase in one’s life when they discover their own individuality, breaking free of the strings that tied them to their parents. For Sylvie to lose her parents at such a monumental time in her life is devastating. My heart broke for Sylvie and all she was forced to endure. Yet, despite these challenges she rose up to face them, ignoring all fear and misgivings.  Through flashbacks, the reader joins Sylvie as she examines incidents that, at the time, seemed trivial but ultimately had a monumental impact on the future of Sylvie and her family as a whole.

Bottom line: Help for the Haunted is an emotional, chilling, and wholly memorable novel about the ghosts that haunt us, supernatural or not.  One of my top books recommended for Fall! Highly recommended.

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3 Responses to “Review: Help for the Haunted by John Searles”

  1. Deb Atwood

    This sounds fantastic and exactly the kind of ghost novel I prefer. I read/review many ghost novels, and my favorites are always those that deal more in character than in horror. Thanks for the suggestion! I’m putting this on my tbr right now.

  2. AanitaaaanitaAaanaa

    I don’t know why I didn’t comment here, but I’m reading this book now and loving, just wanted to see your thoughts. Wonderful review, and thanks as always for giving nothing away. I agree with you about Sylvie, I just want to grab her up and bring her to my house…well maybe.