Book of the Week: Help for the Haunted – John Searles

Searles is the author of the national bestsellers Boy Still Missing and Strange but True. His day job is Editor-at-Large of Cosmopolitan and he’s a book critic for NBC’s Today Show. Credentials as a critic don’t always add up to great storytelling—but that’s not the case here. Searles delivers reliable page turners that have been called “riveting” (NYT), “hypnotic” (EW), and “wonderfully entertaining” (Esquire). For his first novel, People tagged him “an impressively assured new voice.”

This third book doesn’t disappoint; if anything, Searles is raising his game. Our catalog copy comps this book to both Stephen King and John Irving. At first that struck me as an exaggeration but the more I thought about it, that’s not far off the mark. What I think is interesting about Searles is his ability to cross a creepy, page-turning commercial story with deep compassion and empathy for the characters.

Three starred reviews so far; I’ll let PW’s review below lay out the plot for you. I expect lots of coverage at on sale and the media kicks off with NBC’s Weekend Today on 9/29/13. Additionally, Help for the Haunted has been selected for the inaugural LibraryReads list. This new list is fashioned on the independent booksellers’ Indie Next List and represents the nominations of librarians all over the country.

Readers of this unsettling coming-of-age story from Searles may feel the need to whistle past the graveyard by the end. Nothing has been the same for Sylvie Mason since the cold winter’s night when her parents went to a deserted church, not in their self-proclaimed capacity as the saviors of haunted souls, but to meet their runaway older daughter, Rose. Left asleep in the car, Sylvie is awakened by the sound of the gunshots that ended her parents’ lives. Nearly a year later, her grief is still fresh. Schoolmates taunt her, and though Rose has assumed legal responsibility for Sylvie, the older Mason girl fails to properly feed, clothe, or otherwise nurture her younger sister, all the while behaving erratically. Sylvie continues to lie to the police about Rose’s whereabouts that fatal night, even as the trial of a man arrested for the crimes approaches. Her current existence, her parents’ ‘gifts’ and vagabond lifestyle, and strange goings-on in the Masons’ basement unfold in nonlinear fashion, keeping the reader on edge while Sylvie bravely uncovers her family’s many secrets.
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Superlative storytelling… Searles expertly manages his cleverly conceived plotline as he alternately withholds and doles out key information in tantalizing fashion.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Searles has written a truly creepy, smart psychological thriller that will keep readers turning pages until the very end. Highly recommended.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“Searles successfully jumps back and forth in time to let these stories unfold, sowing clues and strange details along the way…A somber, well-paced journey, wrapped in a mystery, that will keep readers guessing until the revealing conclusion.”
— Kirkus Reviews

“Part ghost story, part coming-of-age story, John Searles’ ‘HELP FOR THE HAUNTED’ is a dazzling, dark portrait of a troubled family beset by the supernatural…The result is a novel both frightening and beautiful.”
— Gillian Flynn, bestselling author of Gone Girl

Here’s a pretty interesting “behind the book” piece with Searles.

Help for the Haunted (9780060779634) by John Searles. $26.99 hardcover. 9/17/13 on sale.

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