A Guide for Murdered Children: A Novel

A Guide for Murdered Children: A Novel

by Sarah Sparrow


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"In her astonishing thriller, Sarah Sparrow has joined the ranks of Shirley Jackson and Stephen King. A warning: there is no safe place to read this book."
–David Cronenberg
Terrifying, thoroughly original and hauntingly written, A Guide for Murdered Children is a psychological thriller—and otherworldly surprise.
We’ve heard it said that there is no justice in this world. But what if there really was? What if the souls of murdered children were able to briefly return, inhabit adult bodies and wreak revenge on the monstrous killers who stole their lives?
Such is the unthinkable mystery confronting ex-NYPD detective Willow Wylde, fresh out of rehab and finally able to find a job running a Cold Case squad in suburban Detroit. When the two rookie cops assigned to him take an obsessive interest in a decades-old disappearance of a brother and sister, Willow begins to suspect something out of the ordinary is afoot. And when he uncovers a series of church basement AA-type meetings made up of the slain innocents, a new way of looking at life, death, murderand missed opportunitiesis revealed to him.
Mystical, harrowing and powerfully moving, A Guide for Murdered Children is a genre-busting, mind-bending twist on the fine line between the ordinary… and the unfathomable.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399574528
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/20/2018
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 436,762
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.
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