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Help for the Haunted: A Novel Hardcover – September 17, 2013

4.0 out of 5 stars 537 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Author One-on-One: Gillian Flynn and John Searles

Gillian FlynnJohn Searles

Gillian Flynn is the author of Sharp Objects, Dark Places and the #1 New York Times best-selling novel Gone Girl. She lives in Chicago with her husband, Brett Nolan, and a rather giant cat named Roy.

Gillian Flynn: Writers imbue their characters with a little bit of themselves. Obviously, Sylvie Mason is very different from you. How did you find a window into Sylvie?

John Searles: I joke that, deep down, I’m really a teenage girl. Growing up, my dad worked as a cross-country truck-driver and my brother was usually off with his friends, so my mom, my sisters and I spent were always together. As an adult, I become an editor at a women’s magazine. So in a weird way, it was almost easier for me to write from a female perspective.

GF: You’ve talked before about how your sister’s death affected your writing. How so in this book?

JS: After my sister, Shannon, died, my parents divorced and I left for New York to try and become a writer. Our youngest sister, Keri, was left behind. Keri was around the age of Sylvie, and I realized while writing the book that I was channeling her emotions from that time. She was so young to be faced with tragedy, but like Sylvie, had a resilient spirit.

GF: Help for the Haunted has some seriously scary moments and delves into the subculture of haunted souls and paranormalists. What inspired you?

JS: As a kid, I was obsessed with scary things. I made haunted houses in our garage, and when I got my license, I used to load my friends into my station wagon and drive us down a dirt road at night, where I’d try to scare the hell out of them.

Also, I grew up in the same town as the couple who inspired “The Conjuring.” Seeing them in church used to frighten me! Years later, I saw the woman at library event, and I wondered what it would be like if Sylvie’s parents dealt with the paranormal too.

GF: Do you believe in the supernatural?

JS:In Help For the Haunted, Sylvie says, “I do and I don’t believe.” Her mix of feelings is like my own. Logically, I know better, but then life serves up something unexplainable and I can’t help but believe again.

GF: How do you think you’ve grown as a writer over the course of your career?

JS:I’ve always tried to take risks with my writing, but in Help for the Haunted, I took more: writing from a girl’s perspective, combining a murder mystery with a coming of age tale, playing with time and the supernatural. I used to ask my editor, “Is this story too weird?” Thankfully, she always told me to keep going.

GF: Did you begin Help for the Haunted knowing what was going to happen?

JS: All I had was the voice of a girl left in the care of her tough older sister. The rest came in pieces. The old Tudor where the family lives was inspired by an old Tudor where I stayed at Yaddo. The sisters’ job doing surveys was one I had in high school. The doll came when I discovered Raggedy Ann dolls in my mother’s attic. I forgot she once made them until they were staring me in the face—and scaring me!— once more.

GF: Lots of writers have quirky writing habits. What are yours?

JS: Lying on the floor and staring at the ceiling. Push-ups. Runs. Baths. When I go into a writing jag, I don’t change my clothes, shower or shave. While revising Help for the Haunted, I took a break and stumbled into a restaurant. All of New York City and who sits down next to me, but Jay McInerney. He looked at me with my greasy bedhead and rumpled clothes, and I swear he was about to say, “The soup kitchen is down the street.”

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, September 2013: Late one snowy night, Sylvie Mason hears her parents talking on the phone. A little later, they drive with Sylvie to a church, where--as Sylvie sleeps in the car--they are murdered in the church’s basement. The question of who killed Sylvie’s parents is only the first of many mysteries that unfold in John Searles’ Help for the Haunted, an expertly-wrought, coming-of-age story with a healthy dose of creepiness. Searles takes his time introducing us to his characters--Sylvie, her older sister Rose, their demonologist parents, and a handful of suspects--but in a very calibrated way, he doles out chills and family secrets that heighten the tension with each turn of the page. The chills deliver, but the depth of the story is what really sets this book apart. Your parents are never gone from you… Sylvie remembers her father saying. And for some, that’s just another way of being haunted. --Chris Schluep
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (September 17, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060779632
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060779634
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (537 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #744,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By D. O'Brien on November 15, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm obviously in the minority as far as reviews of this book, but I guess "to each his own". This was one of those rare books that I can't wait to finish just to be done with it. I can't stop a book in the middle because I don't like it; I always have to finish it regardless, but I got very close to closing this one midway. The character of Sylvie is interesting and well developed, but nearly every other character seems forced or shallow, leaving questions hanging overhead, hoping for more depth. I found myself eagerly waiting for something to happen, for some action, for something interesting to push the story along. But it never came. The author holds a couple carrots in front of the reader - the doll, the "possessed" items, among others - but doesn't allow them to reach their full potential.

To be clear, this is not a book about demonology or the occult nor is it remotely chilling. It's a coming of age story about a girl dealing with a very unusual home life and family, and her observations about the world around her. That alone would be a sweet story, but when the author leads you down a road of potential frights and doesn't deliver, it's just plain disappointing. Then there are aspects that don't make sense, like Abigail and the doll. Why were they even in the book? They show up and hang around for a while, then it's as if the author decided he was bored with them and pushes them to the back burner.

The worst part of all is the ending. Not to give it away but the resolution was a cop-out and a rip off. Why introduce a handful of characters if you're going to completely change course at the very end? Ugh.

I wish I could get my money back for this one.
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Format: Hardcover
John Searles' new novel is one of those rare books that envelops, absorbs, and encompasses you completely. From the very first chapter I was completely drawn into the world Searles created: it's 1989, and Sylvie and Rose Mason are the daughters of religious ghost hunters. Very late one winter's night the Masons are called to the town church to meet Rose, who has run off again. Sylvie waits in the car, until a terrible noise urges her inside. Rose isn't there, but a murdered is. Another shot rings out, and Sylvie awakens at the hospital with tinnitus, an orphan. Released into the care of her angry, wild older sister (who has finally turned up), Sylvie must try to come to terms with her new life, her estranged relationship with Rose, the mockery of the town for her parents' questionable livelihood, and all that she never really knew about her parents.

The synopsis and blurbs from other authors suggest that this will be a scary haunted house tale or riveting thriller. These statements are somewhat misleading. There is certainly an undercurrent of menace running through the novel. The Masons are involved in very mysterious activities, giving lectures on spirit activity and meeting with supposedly haunted people. They're loosely based on Ed and Lorraine Warren, ghost hunters involved in many supernatural investigations throughout the 70s and 80s. The occult museum in the basement and haunted doll locked in a case are borrowed from the Warrens. The gothic elements of the story add a spooky tone throughout, but this is where the `ghost story' plotline ends.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book was a disappointment...I was fairly interested in the way the book started out...the characters were interesting and quite strange, but this book barely heald my attention, nothing was happening and I was about ready to give up on it but I kept reading off and on....should have stopped...the ending was as expected...boring!!!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a light little mystery that’s appropriate for the Halloween season – if you like run-of-the-mill coming of age novels, you’ll probably enjoy this (in my opinion, the book jacket claims of ‘stunning’ and ‘poignant’ are overstated, so if you’re looking for something meaty, this isn’t it – try IN THE CHERRY TREE by Dan Pope). The biggest disappointment is that the main character’s parents are so closely based on Ed and Lorraine Warren that Searles might just as well have not bothered to change their names –there are literally details stolen directly from their lives (like the demonic doll sitting in the mother's rocking chair - seriously?), and I’m confused about that choice. As a writer, being inspired by something or someone is one thing, basing a character on someone is another, but ripping it off to the point at which the people it’s based on are clearly identifiable (yet no effort is made to state that in the actual book or at least on its covers) feels like a phone-in. As a reader who paid full price for this book, I feel cheated.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The plot revolves around a family with two daughters whose mother and father offer assistance and consolation to persons haunted by spirits.
The story drags a little in the middle, but pulls you in. The ending has a surprise. There are overtones of spookiness (what's is going on in the basement), but it's not overdone.
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