A Guide for Murdered Children: A Novel

A Guide for Murdered Children: A Novel

by Sarah Sparrow


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399574528
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/20/2018
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 225,569
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Sarah Sparrow lives in Los Angeles.

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Wickenburg, Arizona

Present Day


In rehab now—


Detective Willow Millard Wylde.

Fifty‑seven years old: shitty health and shaky spirits. Kind of a fattie . . .

Which is usually what happens to him at the end of a run.

He was drinking around the clock. Burning his fingers, his mattress, his couch, and his car seat with those bullshit alkie Marlboro Blacks. Burning down his anxieties and dreams. Chugalugging pain pills with Diet Dr Pepper from the moment he awakened to the moment he passed out—and even in the middle of the night, after being startled to wakefulness by his own stertorous snores and otherworldly screams.

No diabetes—yet.

No prostate cancer—yet. (Though tests showed peskily chronic microscopic amounts of blood in the urine, etiology unknown.)

Just some scabby, top of the head, sun‑induced cancer, but no melanoma. Yet.

Still no tangible signs of early‑onset dementia . . .

Cialis seemed to work most of the time for those few and far‑between afternoon delights. Sometimes he had little romantic dates with himself when chemical enhancement wasn’t required and performance wasn’t the issue. But generally he’s lost the urge.

Generally lost all urge.

Willow-that haunted half-oddity of an eccentric name that his grand­ mother bestowed on him, a name he love-hated, a name he'd always been forced to explain (women were enthralled, men were suspect)-Willow Wy­lde, that complicated, beautiful, ruined American mythic thing: Washed-Up Cop. That luminous travesty of premium cable, movies and fiction, high and low: retired alcoholic homicide cop (one of his exes called him a "functional assaholic'), bruised and battered three-years-into-forced-retirement cop, un­lucky in love, depressed, once flamboyant, once heroic cop, decorated then dirty then borderline absolved, now demolished, a revolving door AA member too played out to be a suicide threat. Friends used to arrive en masse to take his weapon away but after the first few interventions bailed in the ensu­ing months then years of relapses. In time, "Dubya"-he had the nickname long before George Walker Bush but didn't mind sharing it (sometimes he just wasn't in the mood to be Willow)-alienated even his die-hard boosters. Their patience and goodwill expired, and they were dispatched or dispatched themselves from his life one by one.

On this day, late June, in the Year of Our Damaged, Dysfunctional Lord: He walks from building to building in the absurd, nearly intolerable blast furnace of Sonoran Desert heat. It gives him solace to singsong-whisper under his breath the mantra, 'I’m broken. Broken. Broken ...“ The tidy personal prayer seemed to go well with the rehab's favorite motto, "Hurt people hurt people."

Oh, true dat.

His daughter Pace went online and found a place called the Meadows. She read that famous people went there. Well maybe they did but all Dubya knows of famous are a European automobile heir who looked like a comic book prince and a jovial, forgotten, once sitcom actor who resembled a spooked and bloated farm animal-mixed in with the usual head cases, drunks, dope fiends and sex addicts.

Willow's wrist is in a cast, the bones having been broken in the collision with a barroom wall. A long pin crucifies the hand to secure the fracture. A tiny red button caps the pin and sits below the pinkie like a ladybug.

Still limps from an old gunshot wound to the leg, when he worked nar­cotics in Manhattan ...

It's 118 degrees-he can't figure out if that's in the sun or the shade, as if it the fuck matters! The only place hotter in the world is Death Valley. Once a week, the two shit kilns have an apocalyptic do-si-do, competing for Hell's honors. He could never wrap his head around the fact that the hottest place on Earth was in the U.S. of A., not the Sahara or Bum Crack, Syria, and now, courtesy of his beloved codependent daughter, he's in rehab in literally the hottest place on Earth-more or less-and shakes his head, mut­tering, "Broken! Broken! Broken!"

His only real family is the rehab tribe: counselors, doctors, RNs, kitchen workers, fellow inmate-travelers. They detoxed him for a week in a room next to the nursing station. Rx: Seroquel for sleep and anxiety, trazodone for sleep and anxiety, donuts and Hershey bars and four packets of sugar/ four of stevia in black coffee for sleep and anxiety. Jacking off in bed and cigarettes 'round the smoke pit for sleep and anxiety ... His besties are a Rimbaud dead ringer-a crazy-handsome seventeen-year-old poet whose arm is also in a sling, due to deep tendon wounds from a suicide attempt that put him in Bellevue for three weeks, and a black fire chief from Fort Worth who peaked at sixty Percocet a day. (Willow marveled at that. The most he could ever manage was ten.) And a wry gal, a gay Buddhist from Fort Lau­derdale who refuses to call him Dubya ("Willow is such a beautiful name. And Willow Wylde is wildly beautiful"). She's droll and way broken too and he feels better when Renata's around. She used to be pretty-everyone used to, even ol' Dub. He tries feeling sexy about himself and people in general (hey, anything to pass the time), but sexiness corroded a long while back, along with everything else.

It's tough to feel sexy when you're wheezing, broiling and broken, shar­ing a room with three men, two of whom have sleep apnea and use angry­ sounding, portable CPAPs at night. It's tough with a long ladybug pin stuck impaling your walloped writing hand ...

Yet still somehow he possesses that irrational, mandatory-yes, sexy­ certainty that somehow all will be solved, all will be made right… tomorrow! That knowledge, a reflexive fallback, that a victim's family will be assuaged and justice will be served. Justice! Because contrary to popular opinion, there was such a thing as closure and screw anyone who said other­ wise. Hell, he lived for closure. As a homicide detective, he'd always had a different interpretation of the word. Trouble was, people had the idea that closure was about feeling good-feeling good was the bottom line, the se­cret of life, everyone always just wanted to feel good, but nothing ever felt good about murder and its aftermath. No: closure wasn't relief or release, it was a balancing of scales, that's all. When the scales were balanced, order and some kind of serenity returned to the world, in spite of oneself A detec­tive's job was to restore balance. That's why he became a Cold Case guy, even though he fucked that up like everything else. The natural order of the universe was balance and symmetry, not justice, but balance was justice; give him a ninth-century mummy with a dagger in its chest and Willow Wylde would get his ordered, just results. It was nothing but a crossword puzzle designed by the Creator and he was good at what he did because he saw that, knew that and was never blinded by the personal.

Now, though, the imbalance was ... himself.

He was his own cold case and didn't have clue one. He wondered if the solution to the crime of Mr. Wylde lay in the idea that hope itself hadn't died-yet-and laughed at the brilliant idiocy of that new notion. True dat: it was a glorious mystery that he still awakened with the buoyancy of Hope. It gave him a spring in his step as he strolled from building to building in the infernal square dance of punishing heat. He wasn't even sure what Hope meant anymore, just another bogus word but there it was, his lifelong com­panion, a big friendly dog, a shaggy dog story that he recognized for better or for worse as his soul mate. When the dog died, where and who would the bereft Willow be?

He strung together the grimy beads of all those tropes-Order! Balance! Justice! Closure! Hope!-like a necklace of cheap pearls. They still made him feel pretty.

Such is the travesty of the broken cop-

As he soaked in the tub of his dorm room, sobbing, his good hand instinctively washing the wounded one as if neither belonged to him (a van drove him to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale yesterday to finally have the pin and cast removed), an idea haunted him: that one morning he'd awaken to find the big dog dead in a field, the soul mate gone maggoty and swollen to near bursting in the heat. Hope abandoned-He'd seen the blessed illusion of Order and Balance disappear in those in whom they burned brightest. He saw what happened when the landlord Hope departed-

-its tenants became ghosts.

Another thing should have haunted him but didn't. Instead, it capti­vated and pulled, holding him an intrigued, almost genteel hostage. It wasn't yet fully formed yet rather was a mirage of what was soon to come.

A persistent vision.

The vision started on the plane, on his way to the Meadows. He was crammed into coach, still drinking but no longer able to get drunk. Like him, the vision too was a complicated, ruined thing, though not of this world. It was a thing that was coming, a thing that lately had begun to intrude on waking life-like it did the other day when he passed the "talking pipe" to his neighbor at the big Saturday men's stag share-a hallucination he'd re­ frained from sharing with the Meadows' counselors. Though he did men­ tion it to Renata, who was gracious enough to call it "weird and sort of gorgeous" (gorgeous being her favorite word).

The vision, more a visitation, of a train whose stained-blue passengers were phantoms.

Not of those he once knew, nor those that Hope had abandoned, but a vision of another world. What world? The bluish whoosh of cabin cars came like a comfort-Willow felt the wind as they roared past-a horror yet a new kind of hope.

Somewhere in him, he knew it was the last hope.


Excerpted from "A Guide for Murdered Children"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Sarah Sparrow.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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A Guide for Murdered Children: A Novel 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
jmchshannon More than 1 year ago
Do not let the cover fool you. This is not a sweet novel with a happy ending for everyone. This is a dark, dark novel. Between the deaths of the adult landlords, the deaths of the children, and the figurative demons that haunt our hero, there is very little joy and too much pain. In addition, the language is stark, almost clinical in nature, which serves to enhance the feeling of bleakness that permeates the pages. To make matters even graver, Ms. Sparrow is unflinching in her portrayal of violence, especially of that done to the children. She may not describe every scene in great detail, but sometimes sentences which have the appearance of being throwaway ones contain much more information than we ever want, need, or anticipate. This all makes for a novel that you can read only during an emotionally removed state. To read it while fully empathetic is to open yourself up to too much pain and sorrow. Yet, there is a real need to carefully read A Guide for Murdered Children for it is not an easy novel to understand. The story flits from Willow's point of view to various deaths to the Porter who runs interference and guides the newly returned children through their last mission. At first, there is too much to absorb, and you are left with one too many WTF moments as you work to understand what is happening. Eventually, the shifts in perspective and narrative make sense, and you find yourself settling into the task of following Willow as he makes his way ever closer to his purpose. However, the chore that is reading the first few chapters means paying closer attention to everything, setting yourself up for heartache and stomachache. A Guide for Murdered Children is not an easy book to like and it is most definitely not for everyone, yet I find myself strangely drawn to reflect upon the story and its commentary on justice. The crimes against the children, even though obliquely mentioned, still linger within my memory, but I cannot let go of this odd story. Ms. Sparrow raises so many questions and provides few answers, and I am okay with this. Her story about lost souls who are able to return to achieve a state of balance is hopeful, if bleak, and I think we need hopeful right now. Rather, I need hopeful right now. Besides, as appalling as the children's deaths are, there is a strange satisfaction to be had by the fact that they are able to find peace. It is even more satisfying that Willow is able to find peace. It means that there is good to be found in this world, even if it is difficult to see.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My review is a 3.5. The book is hard to understand at first. I have read other books like start like this book where the book starts out with several stories In the beginning it is hard to see how this bits and pieces come together. If this this were my only issue with the book I would give it a four. The book has a lot of potential. This novel has an interesting and different premise. The book had both suspense and humor. I liked some of the characters. However, the book had some major flaws. The first is the number of murdered children. The novel seems to imply that there are many groups for murdered children across the country with about five members each year. passing through each group. This statistic is way too high. Maybe if it was one meeting location in New York City where all the murdered children from everywhere in the US attended., the novel might be believable.. The other part of the novel that I did not like is that it raised many questions that it did not answer. Some situations the book presents are supposedly very irregular I wanted to see how and if things returned to the books normal. I wanted a better resolution and closure in the book. In short, I felt this was a book with some very good parts but failed to pull all its different themes effectively together. Also I found some of the premises of the book unbelievable even though it is a fantasy novel. I received this book in exchange for an honest review.
CLynnT More than 1 year ago
A Guide for Murdered Children by Sarah Sparrow is a serious read; not a feel-good happy book. If you enjoy reading something that pushes the limits of what is possible, especially about a subject people don’t want to discuss, you would get into this book. I kept notes as I read, jotting down each character and their relation to others if known. This helped me as I got further into the book. It involves a lot of different types and personalities of people and jumps to different time frames instantly. Because of my notes, I was able to follow easier and this really helped me follow the storyline. Children who are murdered are, without asking, given a chance to live again thru another person, hunting for their killer and seeking the “moment of balance”. The person whose body they inhibit wasn't asked either. They’ve died some sort of instant death, but in the few moments after death, they draw a breath again, but now share two souls in the one body. This concept is interesting and I think the author did an excellent job of transitioning between the adult and the young child, especially in regard to love, family, and sex. As I got into the story, it seemed that something at the weekly meeting was going wrong. The Porter (the person in charge of helping these shared souls coexist, again without consent), seemed to be losing touch with 2-3 of the children. A mistake had been made when a murdered child was entered into the body of a criminal. Here lies the major plot of the book. At times humorous, sad, intriguing, and at some points a bit slow, it’s a read that will keep your attention. I enjoyed the writer’s style. It required an effort on my part. Some sections I had to reread, others I had to flip back to refresh my memory. All in all, I wanted to complete this story and learn how it ended. If the plot of this could possibly happen one day I’d find some comfort in knowing that the lives of the helpless children had been avenged. My thanks to Penguin Publishing Group and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book.
Jolie More than 1 year ago
A Guide of Murdered Children was a thrilling read. A very fast paced book, I was engrossed with it and the concept that the author wrote about. The plotlines were great and the characters were 3D. This is a book that I would recommend to any mystery fans.
dezzy33 More than 1 year ago
I requested to review this book solely based on the title. How can anyone who loves mysteries and weird, supernatural stories resist a title like A Guide for Murdered Children? We immediately get a thorough, no holds barred view of Willow, and he is a mess. Initially, I wondered who the heck is this person and what is going on? Didn't really seem like he'd be "hero" material, but apparently he was. I rather liked how flawed Willow's character was - it makes him a great person to for his job(s). The story has a great appeal - what if children who were violently murdered could return to enact revenge? It enables the "landlord" (or the person who helps the child) to live awhile longer, and allows the "tenant" child retribution. An interesting concept. My only complaint is they keeping talking about "haywire." Oh, it's time for "haywire." Let's chalk it up to "haywire." "Haywire,""haywire," "haywire." I should've counted how many times they used that word. AHHH! Otherwise, it was a quite enjoyable read.