Rummanah Aasi

Description: It begins with a call in the middle of snowy February evening. 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 than the rest, 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.
  Nearly a year later, we meet Sylvie again struggling with the loss of her parents, and living in the care of her older sister, who may be to blame for what happened the previous winter. As the story moves back and forth in time, through the years leading up to the crime and the months following, the ever inquisitive and tender-hearted Sylvie pursues the mystery, moving closer to the knowledge of what occurred that night, as she comes to terms with her family's past and uncovers secrets that have haunted them for years.

Review: John Searle's Help for the Haunted is an uneven coming-of-age/murder mystery. The book has a promising start, but losses its steam towards its resolution. Readers looking for the literal sense of "haunted" a la the Paranormal Activity movies will be disappointed as the haunted in the case of this book is more of the metaphorical sense of the word.
  Sylvie Mason's parents are renowned demonologists until they were brutally murdered in a church on a snowy night. Devoutly Christian, her dad zealously worked the lecture circuit while her mom had the talent to soothe the haunted humans who came to them for help. The specifics of what Sylvie's parents' job is shrouded in mystery and unveiled slowly in the book due to Sylvie's own ignorance.
 When her parents are murdered, Sylvie is the sole witness but doesn't fully remember what happened. In the custody of Rose, her spiteful, rebellious older sister, Sylvie struggles to reconcile her bleak new life with her slightly less-bleak former life. In the past, Sylvie was dubbed the good daughter who obeyed her parents, but now she is by her peers, and the fate of the murder suspect rests in her unsure hands.
  Searles successfully jumps back and forth in time to let these stories unfold, sewing clues and strange details along the way. What frustrated me the most about Help for the Haunted was that there were so many subplots that were really intriguing, but instead of delving deeper and exploring these routes they were abandoned. Despite these frustrations, the author maintains his suspense by having Sylvie slowly coming into her own person and sets her journey to uncover greater truths about her sister, herself and what happened the night of the killing. Though the focus of the story turns to the mystery, her parents remain murky set pieces, their paranormal abilities and activities are never wholly understood. Other parts of the narrative veer toward over-explanation, but some moments are deftly eerie especially scenes with a creepy looking china doll and so-called cages her parents kept in the basement. The book does keep readers guessing until the final reveal but the ending is unsatisfying and puzzling as if the author wasn't sure how to end the book. Overall is Help for the Haunted is a somber story that had a lot of potential to be great. I would recommend this book to readers looking for psychological thrillers.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images, strong violence, and language in the book. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Songs for the missing by Stewart O'Nan, A complicated kindness by Miriam Toews
9 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    Her parents kept cages in the basement? That's definitely terrifying. As are china dolls. I can't deal with them, I feel like they're watching me all the time and then I freak myself out. Awesome. It's a shame the ending is so disappointing, I'd much rather have a book that starts out weak finish strong than the other way around. Thanks for your thoughts on this one Rummanah!


  2. Sounds interesting. Always kids looking for ghost stories. I hadn't seen this one before. Thanks.


  3. Candace Says:

    It's too bad the subplots were abandoned. This does sound intriguing. I can't believe I hadn't heard of it before. Now I'm just wanting to know what happened!


  4. I have a copy of this but shelved it and now I am not sure if I will get to it any time soon. I wanted more but it is disappointing that the ending doesn't bring it all together. also disappointing that there isn't really ghosts.


  5. I do like psychological thrillers, but the doll in the cage just creeps me out. Oh I don't know if I can read this will all the lights on or not.. :) Great review!


  6. This sounds quite interesting, though it sounds like it could have been even better. I'm glad to hear that it keeps you guessing, even if the ending is somewhat underwhelming. China dolls in the basement? Just the thought of that gives me chills. Thanks for sharing! :)


  7. Sounds like it falls too short of satisfying for me. I'm glad you enjoyed it enough but I don't think it's my type of book. I feel a sense of gloom just reading the review. I don't like books like that. Not this type of gloom, darkness, yes, gloom, no.


  8. Ooh I always find anything to do with dolls terrifying! It sounds like the ending could have used some work, and I think my expectations would have been for more traditional haunting, so it's nice to know that going in so I won't be disappointed. This does sound like a solid psychological thriller, and I do love those, so maybe I'll give it a try. Lovely honest review!


  9. I like that this isn't an overly creepy novel, Rummanah. But, I'll pass on this one because of the unsatisfactory and puzzling ending and the fact that there were too many subplots that weren't explored in depth.


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