Help for the Haunted (Hardcover)

By John Searles

William Morrow & Company, 9780060779634, 362pp.

Publication Date: September 17, 2013



John Searles's Help for the Haunted is an unforgettable story of a most unusual family, their deep secrets, their harrowing tragedy, and ultimately, a daughter's discovery of a dark and unexpected mystery.

Sylvie Mason's parents have an unusual occupation--helping -haunted souls- find peace. After receiving a strange phone call one winter's night, they leave the house and are later murdered in an old church in a horrifying act of violence.

A year later, Sylvie is living in the care of her older sister, who may be to blame for what happened to their parents. Now, the inquisitive teenager pursues the mystery, moving closer to the knowledge of what occurred that night--and to the truth about her family's past and the secrets that have haunted them for years.

Capturing the vivid eeriness of Stephen King's works with the compelling quirkiness of John Irving's beloved novels, Help for the Haunted is that rare story that brings to life a richly imagined and wholly original world.

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Conversation Starters from

  1. After her parents' death, Sylvie learns from Father Coffey that her family was driven out of the church by rumors and gossip. But the Masons were very devout. How does the tension between their faith and their unusual activities play out? In what ways do the intersections of these two forces make sense?
  2. When speaking in Ocala, Sylvester says he investigates "the otherness" of the world we live in. What, exactly, do you think this means? Are demons and spirits the only manifestations of "otherness" we encounter in the novel? Are there any kinds of "otherness" that the Masons are not interested in confronting?
  3. When Sylvester drags Rose out of their hotel in Ocala – once she has returned from her evening with Uncle Howie – what do you think he says to her?
  4. In the theater, Howie recounts for Sylvie how he admitted to Sylvester the truth about the "globules." Why do you think Sylvester reacted the way he did, with silence? How do you explain the other encounters he had that weren't Howie's tricks? Why were the ghosts so important to him?
  5. Why are the horses Howie gave her so significant to Sylvie? What do you think they represent, and why is she so upset when they break?
  6. Of the Entwistles, Sylvie's mother says, "What they were doing, I believe, was sharing with us a kind of truth they had created for themselves…There are times when it is easier to fool yourself than swallow some jagged piece of reality." What are some other examples in the book of characters fooling themselves?
  7. With her father gone, there are many different men that Sylvie turns to for guidance: Sam Heekin, Detective Rummel, Derreck, Arnold Boshoff, Father Coffeey, Lloyd, and Uncle Howie. What role do they each play in her life?
  8. Sylvie's mom and her dad have very different reactions when Abigail begins to take Rose's place in their household. Why is this? And what does Abigail represent for each of them?
  9. Derreck says to Sylvie, "It's not the end of the world if you don't always know all the answers." We eventually learn who killed the Masons but, at the end of the book, what questions are we still left with? What are some answers that Sylvie is still looking for?