A Guide for Murdered Children is one of those “what the heck did I just read” kind of books–in a good way. The problem is, the premise of the story is so much the story that telling you what it is about can be a bit of a spoiler. It’s much better if you figure it out yourself. I had forgotten the description before I started to reading and I am kind of glad I didn’t look so it took me by surprise. Really, don’t look, just read the book.

It begins with Dubya (not that Dubya!), Willow Wylde, recovering alcoholic ex-cop who recognizes he is a living cliche. Much of the story is carried by his interior thoughts and that’s a good thing, his thoughts are like a cross between James Ellroy and Hunter S. Thompson. I like him, drunk and sober. His backstory is a mix of TV-trope vice squad corruption and addiction. He was married, trashed his marriage, went to New York City, trashed his career, and now is back in Michigan getting sober and getting to know the daughter he effectively abandoned during her teens.

He is offered a job by his old partner, now County Sheriff, running a cold case squad–and one of the first cases they tackle is the disappearance of two children twenty years earlier, children his daughter babysat. He was there the day the children disappeared and in a way, that unsolved case haunts him. It haunts his two deputies even more and that’s where the story gets really weird.

Willow is the focus of the story as he becomes, literally, a guide for murdered children, but there are other fascinating characters including Annie, a woman who runs a sort of group therapy program for murdered children. Yup, that’s kind of weird. There’s also Honeychile, a young girl who claims to be a murdered boy. More weird stuff. And yet it all makes sense if you just go with the story, let it do its thing, and sit back for the ride…which is in the end, the moral of the story, surrender, trust, and let the process do its thing.

I liked A Guide for Murdered Children though I thought I was reading one kind of book at the beginning and by the end was reading something completely different. That is not a problem, it’s a gift. The central theme is vengeance, justice, redemption, and forgiveness. What is necessary for closure. There are times it is so incredibly moving. There is a scene at a funeral near the end where a woman whose children were murdered twenty years earlier meets one of the detectives who worked the case that broke and healed my heart at the same time.

There is too much detail of the murders for me and I am usually unbothered by that. I can’t recommend it to people who find violent details upsetting and traumatizing. I am sure I find it more upsetting because the victims are children, but even when victims are adults, there is more detail than I want.

Sparrow tends to over-explain as well. We are not trusted to infer the truth from actions, but must have them explained to us. However, sometimes we have the chance to make the connection before the characters which is something to appreciate.

The idea of surrendering, of just accepting what happens as it happens, seems almost a message to readers and how we should accept the book. It’s good advice for book reading, but maybe not for life.

I received a copy of A Guide for Murdered Children from the publisher through Edelweiss.