Carolyn Cushman Reviews A Guide for Murdered Children by Sarah Sparrow

Sarah Sparrow, A Guide for Murdered Children (Blue Rider 978-0-399-57452-8, $27.00, 385pp, hc) March 2018.

Murdered children take over the bodies of re­cently deceased adults in order to get revenge on their murderers in this truly strange novel. Ex-police detective Willow Millard Wylde is retired at 57, messed up with booze and pain pills and iffy health, in rehab when first encountered. Trying to do better for his grown daughter and her son, he manages to get a job working cold cases with a couple of rookies, and one case that obsesses them ends up providing a mystery to drive the plot. More importantly, though, Willow also meets Annie, who runs the vaguely 12-step-like meet­ings for the dead children in the bodies of their adult “landlords” – and she tells him he’s going to take her place as the next Porter to help the children find balance. Willow isn’t a good person, at least in the beginning, but he turns out to be surprisingly likeable, if only for his unquenchable hope, the assumption that things will work out somehow even when he has really screwed up; lots of flashbacks help delineate his descent to the point at which we first meet him, and his gradual growth afterwards. Willow’s story is interspersed with details of the children’s murders and revenge. It’s not entirely clear how that all works, but the tidbits revealed are fascinating. Oddly, the effect is enhanced by tangles in time – flashbacks and shifts between past and present tense – and occa­sional awkward grammar. Somehow, it all comes together in a tale that sucks you in.

Carolyn F. Cushman, Senior Editor, has worked for Locus since 1985, the longest of any of the current staff, and handles our in-house books database, writes our New and Notable section, and does the monthly Books Received column. She is a graduate of Western Washington University with a degree in English. She published a fantasy novel, Witch and Wombat, in 1994.

This review and more like it in the September 2018 issue of Locus.

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