In WINTER HAVEN, master storyteller Athol Dickson returns to Maine, the setting of his last novel, THE CURE, to spin the sort of hair-raising tale of suspense his readers have come to expect and enjoy.
On a small Maine island called Winter Haven, the body of a 28-year-old washes onto the beach. When the dead man’s younger sister Vera arrives to identify her brother, she realizes something is desperately wrong. Siggy still appears exactly as he did when he disappeared at age 15. And when Siggy, who was obsessed with Vikings, is found with an ancient Viking ship brooch in his pocket, the trouble for Vera is only beginning.
Asked to stay on the island until the mystery of her brother’s death can be resolved, Vera is drawn into a web of fear and intrigue. From the start, the islanders make it clear that Vera is unwelcome. She is plagued by frightening hallucinations, hissing voices that only she can hear, and a haunting figure in black --- all which may hold clues to whatever evil lingers on the island. When she stumbles across a large circular boulder with a depression in the center and the inscription, “O thou perfect goddess, Receive mine heart, An eternal offering to thee,” her terror is palpable. Just what, the reader may wonder, has Vera walked into?
One handsome man, Captain Evan Frost, owns a large portion of the island, including the beach where Siggy’s body was discovered. Evan may hold the key to romance for Vera, or perhaps he holds something more sinister. Is he good, or is he part of the dark side? Vera isn’t sure. Unwelcome memories surface from her past, and she begins to wonder if she is losing her mind.
As unexplained ghostly noises continue and more frightening events occur, Vera fears she was lured to the island for other, more malevolent reasons than recovering her brother’s body. And is it just coincidence that Siggy is found around the same time Viking artifacts are unearthed on the island? You’ll feel the goose bumps begin to rise as a widow Vera boards with warns her about the legend of Evangeline: “She kills and kills and comes again to kill….”
As he did in THEY SHALL SEE GOD and RIVER RISING, Dickson doles out just enough information to keep the suspense high and the reader turning pages. More about Vera and Siggy’s past unfolds (including Siggy’s handicap and a faith-healing father who believes Siggy is a prophet). But what kind of faith healer can’t heal his own wife, daughter and son? The suspense continues to deepen as we learn more about Vera and Siggy’s past.
Dickson pens some great eerie scenes, including one where Vera and lawman Steady Wallis talk while large ravens settle on the church roof (perhaps taking its cue from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and just as chilling). In another scene, he paints a lovely descriptive picture of a pair of seals playing in the harbor’s edge, while five black cormorants drift nearby. This evocative writing makes following the storyline a pleasure. Christian readers will also appreciate the abundant faith themes throughout.
As events spiral out of control, Vera wonders about a God who would make the coast of Winter Haven so gorgeous, yet allow her and her family to suffer endlessly. No easy question, and it remains a dilemma for Vera until the closing pages and another hook for faith readers. The last two chapters will please those who are looking for a redemptive ending to Vera’s story.
WINTER HAVEN is an absorbing suspense novel from one of Christian fiction’s most engaging writers.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on May 1, 2008