I read WINTER HAVEN first of all because of the title (who wouldn't want one of those), and secondly because Athol Dickson's books came with good words from places like Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, Christian Fiction Review, and the New York Times. Not to mention he is a multiple Christy Award nominee and winner, and this particular book is one of four in his new "Christy Collection."
Early on, I realized it was a bit dark and foreboding compared to my usual fare -- fantastic, even. But before any of his many fans start to argue, I must confess there are children that delve into scarier things than I usually read, so no arguments there. However, there was an almost haunting beauty to his prose that drew me on, along with the hope he was going somewhere other than the path I first found myself on during those early pages. And I was not disappointed.
Vera was a young woman I instantly felt sorry for. Alone with an unusually troubled past, made better only by her attachment to an autistic brother who spoke only in scriptures. A brother who disappeared thirteen years before the story's opening, and whose body had recently washed up on an island off the coast of Maine.
By this time, Vera has become an accountant who found most of her security in the predictability of numbers. Living alone in a small apartment, she is hesitant at the daunting prospect of identifying and claiming the body after all these years. But away she goes to the remote location, not only to do her duty, but to perhaps find some closure in the greatest sorrow of her life.
Imagine then, what a turn she took (not to mention readers) only to discover the boy had not grown into a man, or even aged beyond the year he had disappeared. That he was still wearing around his neck the laminated note card their anxious, long-dead, mother had penned for him which read, "I am not dangerous."
Which is all the information I can give you, dear readers, without handing out spoilers regarding this gripping, near-gothic tale. One which had echoes of that long ago favorite author, Daphne du Maurier, but... not quite. No, and as you read farther on, not really. For while this tale of Winter Haven was made up of enough mystery to more than keep me turning pages, the prose was the sort to remind me of the poetics of James Dickey, or Eudora Welty. Those masters I could never sit down and read without having a pen to underline passages with.
All of which is enough for me to recommend this book to anyone who likes a story that you can't put down even when you would like to. Except for one very important thing. The believability of it. The lengths Athol Dickson goes to convince us that such things not only could happen, but have probably already done so many times over. This, in my opinion, makes WINTER HAVEN a book that more than deserves its Christy recognition. So, don't miss it. Meantime, I'm off to read the other three.
Which, I suppose... makes me a fan.