I raised a small controversy in this space a little while back, when I gave a less than enthusiastic (though positive) review to Athol Dickson’s The Cure.
I liked his Winter Haven considerably better, though I still have a couple reservations.
I criticized The Cure for offering a weak sister protagonist for whom I found it hard to root. No such problem with Winter Haven. The protagonist here is Vera Gamble, a Texas accountant whose nearly obsessive-compulsive passion for numerical balance drives her to go to any lengths to rectify the imbalances in her own life. She has lost her mother (to cancer) and her autistic brother (he just disappeared one day), and finally her father, whose abusive religious teachings drove her to never, never, never ask God why He let anything happen. Now she’s received word that her brother’s body has washed up on a beach on the Maine island of Winter Haven. When she makes her way there to take him home, she discovers that, although thirteen years have passed since his disappearance, he looks precisely the age he was when he ran away.
The story unfolds in the classic manner of a Gothic novel (and a good one). The island residents seem oddly hostile, and they are greatly disturbed when their (unwritten and unexplained) rules about where she may go and what she may do are transgressed. A handsome sea captain who lives alone in a crumbling mansion is the one who discovered her brother’s body. He has recently announced the discovery of Viking artifacts, which (trust me on this), if verified as being discovered on this island, would mean a huge historical breakthrough. But is his story true? Why won’t he show anyone where he found them? What is he hiding? And what is the strange, inhuman voice that Vera hears everywhere, speaking almost-intelligible words?
I found the mystery fascinating. Winter Haven is a genuine page-turner.
Maybe it’s just me, but I thought Dickson tied everything up a little too neatly at the end. The theme of answered questions, and mysteries explained, is central to the book, but I (personally) find too much resolution a little unbelievable. In my own books, I like to leave a few threads untied, because life’s like that.
But that’s my only quibble. I recommend Winter Haven.