Help For The Haunted by John Searles begins with the murder of Rose and Sylvester Mason in a church, partially witnessed by their daughter Sylvie who was sitting outside in the car. The three of them had set out for the church after receiving a late night phone call, which we learn is a common occurrence in the house, because Sylvie’s devoutly Christian parents had an unusual profession: they helped people who were troubled by demons, and traveled the country giving lectures on their supernatural experiences.
The story then alternates between a few months after the murder, and the years building up to it, during which we learn about Sylvie and her older sister Rose’s odd lives, and follow Sylvie’s struggle to find her parents’ killer. Albert Lynch – the father of one of the Mason’s “patients” who ran away – is in jail awaiting Sylvie’s testimony against him, but she is not certain that he’s the figure she saw at the church. Things are not adding up and little by little, she begins to sort out the clues and separate the supernatural from reality, with the help of Sam Meekin, a reporter who wrote a discrediting book about her parents, her recovering alcoholic uncle Howie who was at odds with her father, Rose’s ex-boyfriend Derreck and the mysterious lady who leaves food for the two sisters on their doorstep.
Searles keeps the reader in prolonged suspense by doling out only so much information at a time; for example, early on, the girls find a Raggedy Ann doll thrown in their yard by local teenagers, and it’s understood that this is a common insult, but the reason is not immediately explained. In fact, he doesn’t even make it clear at first that it is a Raggedy Ann, describing it in a vague, almost menacing way. We also don’t learn for quite awhile the alarming fact that the parents allowed “haunted individuals” to stay in the basement, even though we know that the souvenirs of their cases are kept down there, and that since the parents’ death, a light has turned on, and Sylvie is too scared to investigate.