Help for the Haunted by John Searles

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Help for the Haunted by John Searles

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Susmita Chatto
Reviewed by Susmita Chatto
Summary: An unusual story combining the supernatural and the resolution of a crime.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 426 Date: September 2014
Publisher: Sphere
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0751555905

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Rose and Sylvester Mason make their living from helping the haunted, performing exorcisms and running seminars across America on the subject of the paranormal. When they are murdered in a church, their daughters, Rose and Sylvi, are left negotiating the complex legacy their work has left behind.

The beginning of this book is extraordinarily good. Painting the picture of the whole family and their unusual life, it also manages to flow and combine the sinister aspects of the story with the background of an ordinary family making their way in the world. Rose and Sylvie’s upbringing, in accordance with the Bible, has merely resulted in provoking the devil in both girls. Their treatment of their nanny, Dot, and the cruelty which they dish out quite casually, tells us a great deal about them and the pressure of being raised in such a way.

The accumulation of questions is hugely enjoyable, making the early pages fly by. Why do noise and light emanate from the basement? Why do Rose and Sylvie find effigies and home cooked meals on their doorstep after the murder? And how will either of them recover from that awful night?

Searles sets up all these scenes beautifully. However, about a quarter of the way through, I began to find the exposition clunky. The story of the girls’ grandparents is brought in and the narrative moves between several past episodes and then back to the present in a way I found quite jarring. The flow of the story was compromised as the switching is so frequent and in some parts, very strangely judged in terms of which scene follows which. Searles also ventures into a lot of detail about events and characters that ultimately has little impact on the story.

This was initially frustrating because I felt that the set up indicated an excellent book. Searles has terrific skills as a wordsmith and individual sections really stand out. However, as well as the problematic exposition, as I got further into the book, I found too much setting up. When a writer builds tension and takes their time over it, the reader reasonably expects a big pay off, not for their patience, but simply because the incidents which are worth of a major build up have to be, well, major! There are certainly a few surprises along the way here but some of the more sinister set ups lead to such mundane explanations, I was disappointed.

By the end, I was ready to finish and really wondering if such a large cast of characters needed to be brought in for the big finale. Possibly this book was too ambitious; it combines a mystery and a supernatural story with a good deal of character-driven material and the result is overly complex. Overall, I think it would be of more interest to those looking for a human story than a supernatural one.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy Touched by Joanna Briscoe.

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Buy Help for the Haunted by John Searles at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Help for the Haunted by John Searles at


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