Winter Haven takes on a Gothic feel as the story delivers the reader to a world seemingly filled with mysterious doings along the foggy coast of Maine, and people filled with evil intent.
The book opens with a middle-aged woman, Vera, taking a boat trip to an island off the coast of Maine. This opening scene paves the way for the rest of the story, setting the backdrop of an island whose residents seem to be set apart from the rest of the country. Vera, who has already lived a lonely life in New York, feels out of place on the island and takes the boat trip to retrieve the body of her dead brother Siggy, whom she hasnít seen in thirteen years. A mere child when Siggy, a highly functioning young autistic man, ran away from home and was never seen or heard from again, Vera rushes off to Maine at the news of his death, a out of character for this shy, insecure woman. But she needs to find the answers to why he ran away, whether she was responsible for his disappearance, and to confirm whether the body is truly her brother who had disappeared without a trace.
Vera's search for the answers to her questions is not easy. The islanders do not appear to like her, and she feels that they are doing their best to keep her in the dark. What should have been a short trip turns into an extended one as she stumbles upon one roadblock after another in her quest to find the reasons for her brotherís disappearance and death. When she finally is shown the body, she at first denies that it is her brother's but finally accepts it - then realizes he has not aged a day. Nothing makes sense, and it gives her more cause to find those answers the islanders are keeping from her.
She ends up rooming at Ida Abernathy's home, a widow who has her own secrets. She's abrupt and gives Vera the creeps, but Vera needs a place to stay. Despite Ida's warnings, Vera goes in search of answers on a part of the island that is supposed to be dangerous. There she runs into a man who will change her life forever, a man that she isn't sure she wants either to trust or love.
Winter Haven is labeled as Christian fiction, but it truly reminds me of the old Gothic suspense romances that were so popular back in the day. It is my favorite genre of fiction, and this book brought back all those memories with the foggy atmosphere of the islands, mysterious Ida Abernathy and her strange ways, a supposed ghost that scares Vera out of her wits, and the rumors and tales passed around by the locals. Vera, while not the classic heroine of the old Gothic romances, still fits into the scheme of things as she continuously refuses to listen to the warnings of the locals while she searches for the answers to her brother's death. Her upbringing as a ministerís daughter has had a huge influence on her adult life, and the flashbacks to her childhood eventually help lead her to the answers she seeks. Evan Frost, himself a man of secrets considered by some on the islands to be a danger to Vera, is the turning point in Vera's life.
I am definitely recommending Winter Haven and consider it one of my favorite books read so far in 2008. I look forward to Athol Dicksonís next book. Iíve only read two books by this author so far, but I feel I can say that his books are some of the best I've read Ė and not only in the Christian fiction genre; the previous book, The Cure, was one of my favorite books from 2007. Dickson writes beautiful prose, and while his books are labeled Christian fiction, those who normally don't read this genre may feel drawn to his books as well.