Monday, March 3, 2014

Help for the Haunted.

Title/Author:  Help for the Haunted by John Searles.

Genre:  Dark Fiction.

Publisher: Ballantine Books.

Source:  Purchased.

Synopsis:  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.

Midnyte Musings:  This is a story of secrets and who doesn't love a good secret? 

First and foremost, there is the question of what did 14 year old Sylvie, the main character, really see in the church the night her parents were murdered?  Then there is the question of how reliable a narrator she is.  Are the spooky events that happen in her home, within her family real?  Are her parents frauds or do they really fight demons?  What does her Uncle know?  What does reporter Heekin, who wrote a book about her parents find out about them?  And, what is up with her older sister Rose?

I don't know if the author had The Warrens in mind when he modeled this family, but that's who I kept thinking of.  The personalities, the stories of their experiences and even their collection of artifacts all had a similar ring to it.  There is even a creepy doll that is supposed to be possessed locked up in their basement.

Although at times a bit disconnected, I liked the style of the story.  Told in Sylvie's point of view in the present and past, served well in giving hints and backstory to the mystery of her family.  What I loved were the details of her experiences and how at times, they brought me back to my own childhood: taking trips with my parents, the thrill of an ice-cream treat and hand surfing out an open car window.

One thing that sometimes didn't ring true was Sylvie's very mature behavior and dialogue for her age.  At times, it was hard for me to imagine a 14 year old being as savvy and calculating as she was sometimes portrayed.  The other issue was the big reveal.  I liked that I didn't see it coming and yes, it was related and threaded into the story, however, it also came out of left field so the surprise wasn't satisfying. 

The other issue I had with the writing and this is sooo trivial but it started to bug me was the use of the word "still" repetitively.  When a word is used over and over, I start to notice it, and when I start to notice one word in an entire book I find myself thinking about it, and when I'm thinking about the overuse of one word I'm not thinking about the story.

However, these were just small issues I had compared to how much I loved this book.  I wondered what was going on throughout and I loved the anticipation and speculation.

Constellation of Characters:
Sylvie Mason - the story is told in her first person perspective.  I really liked her very much.  I found her sympathetic, empathetic and in a tough position.  She is the good daughter.  The one who obeys her parents, gets good grades and does everything she can to please people.

Rose Maston - I hated her.  Really.  She was so mean to Sylvie and it is obvious she is unequipped and, it seems, unwilling to take care of her younger sister when they are orphaned.  I wonder why she petitioned the Court to be her legal guardian?  She is angry and lashes out.  She is not the most sympathetic of characters.  However, this is also why I found her to be very compelling.

Mr. and Mrs. Mason - What are their gifts?  Are they real or are they perpetuating a hoax?  What exactly is their dynamic with the family and the supernatural?  Again, more characters with questions attached.  I liked the mother as she was kind and caring.  The father is interesting.  He just wants a happy family and to be a good provider.  But at what cost?

Starstruck Over:  The creepiness and uncertainty of this story.  It kept me turning the pages rather quickly.


Unknown said...

Never heard of this one before, but it does sound interesting. I love the opening hook for it. Have to put it on the ol' watch list. Nice review.

Karen said...

I'm starting to get annoyed with repeated words. I see it happening more often lately. to the point that if I'm using my Kindle - I do a search at the end to count the total #.

Overall it sounds like a good creepy story.

Nikki in Niagara said...

I loved this one! Then I'm always a sucker for creepy doll stories :-)

Midnyte Reader said...

@Gef-It got mixed reviews, but I really liked it. It had a lot of tension.

@Karen-That is kind of a neat idea. Luckily, it was pretty creepy so I could forgive a few issues.

@Nicola-It was cool, wasn't it?

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