This one will not make my top five favorites, or even my top ten. It’s going to swim somewhere in the middle of the 50 books I read this year and probably go unnoticed, and that’s because I don’t love a bait-and-switch story.
When both Gillian Flynn and Khaled Hosseini recommend a book, I’m counting on it to be good. It’s not that Help for the Haunted isn’t good, as in bad character development, lack of action, uninteresting twists and turns. It’s that I was sold a book that I believed to be about the paranormal. I specifically chose to read this book during October because I thought it was about ghost hunting and demon possession and all that creepy stuff that’s only entertaining in October.
I’m not going to spoil the book for you here, but if you want me to spoil it for you via email, drop me a line.
From the author’s website: 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 from 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.
Sounds interesting, right? Yes, I thought so too, and it is. Much of it is. I’d say the first 80% of the book is enthralling and curious. I love Sylvie. I want to bring her home with me. And yet, when the story was over, I felt like I’d been robbed a good ending. This isn’t a Gone Girl kind of ending; rather, it’s the kind of ending that doesn’t match the rest of the book.
Lastly, the going back and forth in time was a struggle for me, and it’s something I took note of as a writer. I blatantly toggle back and forth in my first book but I’m playing with time more loosely in the second. John Searles weaves time together so tightly that even the dialogue from two different timelines border one another. It was tricky. I didn’t love it.
Try not to see this as a negative review. You may read this book and love it. I hope you do! I liked it. It was fine. Just not my favorite.