Title: Help for the Haunted
Author: John Searles
No. of Pages: 368
Origins: William Morrow and Company
Release Date: 17 September 2013
Bottom Line: Deliciously creepy and twisting
“It begins with a call one snowy February night. Lying in her bed, young Sylvie Mason overhears her parents on the phone across the hall. This is not the first late-night call they have received, since her mother and father have an uncommon occupation: helping “haunted souls” find peace. And yet something in Sylvie senses that this call is different from the others, especially when they are lured to the old church on the outskirts of town. Once there, her parents disappear, one after the other, behind the church’s red door, leaving Sylvie alone in the car. Not long after, she drifts off to sleep, only to wake to the sound of gunfire.
As the story weaves back and forth through the years leading up to that night and the months following, the ever-inquisitive Sylvie searches for answers and uncovers secrets that have haunted her family for years.”
Thoughts: From the opening chapters, a reader knows that appearances are deceiving and that there is more than one mystery to unravel. With its dark undercurrent and thinly veiled hints of the macabre with the juxtaposing moments of clarity and realism, the truth is constantly shifting and changing, making Help for the Haunted a slippery plot but one that intrigues, entices, and draws a reader in to its complex web of lies, misinterpretations, and deliberate betrayals. The thrilling conclusion comes a shock but one that fits the puzzle and allows the entire picture to become clear. It is a masterfully-written drama/mystery that twists the idea of perception and reality and identifies the fine line between help and harm on those most in need.
When all is said and done, it is difficult to determine if Sylvie is the haunted needing help to whom the title refers or if it is her parents’ line of work. Convincing arguments could be made for either side of the debate as Sylvie is indeed quite discomfited by the death of her parents, as is only natural for a girl of fifteen suddenly made an orphan. Her grief, superimposed with her need to be the good daughter, is palpable across the written page and evokes a nurturing response in the reader. Moreover, her fractious relationship with her sister and fragility in the wake of stupendous loss make her the ultimate tragic figure. She earns a reader’s admiration by her grim determination to do the right thing, even if that right thing means uncovering secrets she never knew existed and reassessing everything she thought she knew about her parents, their occupations, and their deaths.
Help for the Haunted is fantastically creepy. Mr. Searles deftly weaves complex human emotions and fragilities into a stellar murder mystery cum psychological thriller. As the lone survivor and witness to the horrific night, Sylvie bears the pressure of the investigation, the burden of which soon begins to tear down the carefully constructed façade she erected after her parents’ death. Her search for more meaningful answers and the piecing together of clues previously ignored help Sylvie uncover the truth, but not before she is forced to challenge everything she understood or knew about her parents. As the story wends its way towards an unforgettable conclusion, readers attend a whirlwind ride through haunted artifacts, tortured souls, and the truth.