Like many books that come out every year, John Searles’ Help For the Haunted, appears to be one thing, when it fact it is really much deeper than that surface impression may imply. In this case, what appears from its description to be a paranormal story is actually quite a traditional mystery novel couched within a coming-of-age story. The paranormal aspects of the plot are certainly relevant, but the heart of the tale is Sylvie Mason and how the events in her early life work to shape her.
Sylvie’s parents have a unique career which has brought them various levels of notoriety, both positive and negative. As we see in flashbacks, Sylvester and Rose Mason have a partnership that goes beyond just a marriage. They work together to help rid people of the spirits that literally haunt them. Their union brings together the religious (Rose’s background) and the occult (Sylvester’s forte) along with the spiritual and unknown aspects of both.
When they are called by their older daughter to collect her from a local church, they decide to take their younger daughter, Sylvie, with them – a decision that will change Sylvie’s life. For that evening, Sylvie’s parents are killed and she becomes the lead eye-witness responsible for the arrest of Albert Lynch, a man whose daughter, Abigail, spent some time living in the Mason household.
The focus of the rest of the novel involves Sylvie second-guessing what she believes happened that night at the church and trying to figure out what the reality was. As one would expect from a tale of this sort, this involved many flashback scenes that document the various events that led up to that evening. While it is Sylvie who is acting as investigator, the format plays out very much like a traditional crime novel, with one clue leading to the next discovery and so on and so forth.
John Searles works as the Editor-at-Large at Cosmopolitan magazine and readers will respect that this background seems to influence the novel. Searles is able to convincingly portray the inner workings of his young female protagonist’s mind – not an easy thing for anyone to do, let alone an adult male. Sylvie Mason is a character readers will be rooting for and will long remember after the book jacket is closed.
I don’t mean to give the impression that the paranormal aspects of the novel are unimportant. It is really just the opposite, in that they are instrumental in causing all the other activity that takes place in the plot. Some of the vignettes that Searles creates will send shivers down the spine of even the most stringent non-believers. Like with Pennywise, the clown from Stephen King’s It, I suspect that more than one reader will lose sleep thinking about Penny, the haunted doll that the Mason bring home after one of their excursions to “help the haunted.”
Yet, underneath all of this creepy and atmospheric set-dressing, Help For the Haunted, is really a coming-of-age story. A story of a girl who comes to realize that if you believe something strongly enough, sometimes it will become your reality. Sometimes the secrets we keep can be more powerful than the supernatural we imagine. With Help For the Haunted, John Searles has created a completely realistic tale which proves that just because something may be different, does not mean that it is evil; and that just because we believe something, that does not necessarily make it true.
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.