Sylvie Mason’s family life is anything but ordinary. Her parents earn a living exorcising tormented souls and traveling the country giving lectures on these experiences. Her older sister Rose rebels at every opportunity, and has a serious mean streak. There is also a possessed Raggedy Ann doll caged in her basement. Things aren’t any easier at school where Sylvie faces constant ridicule from classmates as a result of the bizarre stories circulating regarding her parents. Then tragedy strikes one stormy night when her father and mother are gunned down in their church, which is where Help for the Haunted by John Searles begins. These senseless murders set the tone for this cryptic and eerie novel.
The story is presented from two different perspectives with chapters alternating in time between present day, and life in the Mason household before the murders. Searles authentically captures Sylvie’s 14-year-old voice throughout the course of the novel, from her frustration with her sister and worry for her mother, to her overwhelming desire to say what people want to hear. This character driven story is also swathed with shadow and uncertainty as unexplained events keep the element of mystery growing. Searles joins the esteemed company of Laura Lippman and Martha Grimes in setting his suspenseful and creepy novel in a Baltimore County community. Readers will appreciate the many local Dundalk references and landmarks, which punctuate the story and lend it an air of authenticity. The mystery of what really occurred on the night of the murders drives the story to an exciting and astonishing conclusion. Help for the Haunted is a fascinating novel that puts a different spin on the traditional ghost story.