REVIEW: Help for the Haunted by John Searles

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Title: Help for the Haunted

Author: John Searles

Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow, Pub. date Sept. 17, 2013

Help for the Haunted follows the story of sisters Sylvie and Rose in the aftermath of the horrific murder of their parents, Sylvester and Rose Mason.  Sylvester and Rose made a career of investigating spirits and possible hauntings, attempting to drive bad spirits out of the lives of people. As Rose tries to figure out how to be her sister’s guardian and Sylvie struggles to fit in at school, a place where she was already the odd one out because of her parents’ career, questions begin to arise about what actually happened to their parents and how guilty the accused murderer actually is. Adding an additional level of stress for Sylvie, she begins to suspect her house maybe haunted by some of the evil spirits her parents dealt with during their lives.

While the mystery of who killed Sylvester and Rose Mason does drive some of the plot, there is significantly more focus on examining how family does or does not come together in grief, how we all mourn differently, and how we reconcile who we are with some of the secrets we are forced to keep. Guilt and grief are powerful emotions that have the potential to change who we are. Searles does an excellent job delving into these difficult topics in a way that makes the characters sympathetic but still aware of the mistakes that they’ve made. Grief can be extremely isolating and it often seems easier to block ourselves away than actually deal with the pain. Putting two people in the same house who are dealing with this type of tragedy, neither in a very healthy way makes for an interesting dynamic.

Interspersed with the chapters on Rose and Sylvie are flashbacks to their childhood and how they were impacted by their parents’ career, specifically those instances dealing with Albert Lynch (the man accused of killing their parents). These flashbacks help the reader begin to make sense of how the girls were impacted by growing up with parents who had such a unique livelihood. Rose, daughter not mother, was especially impacted as her search for identity often butted up against what her parents, specifically her father, wanted for her and believed was appropriate for her. As Sylvie begins to better understand the dynamic between her sister and her father she begins to understand more and more about the hows and whys of what happened the night her parents died.

I really enjoyed this book, even though it did make me cry on a number of occasions. Searles has a real talent for creating believable characters with the many depths and foibles we see in real people. The book is definitely worth a read and would make an excellent book club selection since it offers numerous avenues for discussion. 

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