the unrelenting grace of God
Thirteen years ago, Siggy Gamble ran away from home, never to be found – until his body washed ashore on the tiny island of Winter Haven off the coast of Maine. Now his sister, Vera, travels north to claim the body and finds herself tangled in the impossible. Her brother hasn’t aged a day since she last saw him. Determined to uncover the cause of Siggy’s mysterious end, Vera soon learns there are many secrets haunting the island – tales of lost colonies, of a witch bent on revenge, and a towering forest where no creature dares lives. Hemmed in by distrustful locals … will Vera’s desperate questions lead to answers, or will her story become yet one more dark Winter Haven legend? (From the book cover)
Vera Gamble is a numbers person, a mid-level accountant who has managed to lose herself in her ordered world of too- long work hours, TV dinners, and isolation. But one phone call changes everything leading her to make painful discoveries about her long-lost autistic brother and her own tortured past on a little piece of real estate off the coast of Maine called Winter Haven. Nothing is what it seems on this remote island fifty miles out in the Atlantic: not the people, not the sounds of the forest, and not the ageless body of her autistic brother laying in an icehouse.
This is a classic gothic story set on a classic gothic mystery island. Unlike River Rising and The Cure, Winter Haven is less a parable and more a story of self-discovery, conquered fears, and the unrelenting grace of God. One reviewer commented that the ending of Winter Haven is implausible. Perhaps, but then again so are the mysterious workings of God in the lives and affairs of mankind.
Questions for the author, Athol Dickson
This is the second novel you based in Maine. What is it about Maine that makes it so attractive to suspense and mystery?
I tend to choose settings or invent settings much as I create characters. They play a major role in creating the mood of the story. Sometimes they even participate in the events. Winter Haven is a good example of this. I decided to set the story on an island far off the coast of Maine because the events and the characters made more sense in a very isolated location, and Maine feels very remote to me, very much out of the American mainstream. Also, just as you want your characters to be unique and interesting, Maine has a strong culture which is very distinct from the rest of the USA. Mainers have their own foods. They have a distinct accent and a vocabulary nobody else uses. They’re also hard to pin down as a people, for example they’re politically liberal, but they have a Republican governor and senator. I love visiting Maine, and find it fascinating, and it’s always easier to get a sense of charm into a book if you feel it yourself.
You are have stated in other interviews that you generally start with a theme for your stories. What was the working theme of Winter Haven as you framed the story?
Thematically, Winter Haven is about the fact that God wants us to wrestle with Him. “Israel” means “wrestles (or strives) with God.” It’s what he named Jacob, and through Jacob, an entire people whom He later called His “treasured possession” But so many of us are afraid to go to God with out doubts and questions. We worry that He’ll be angry with us, or that it’s a kind of faithlessness to question God. God loves an honest question. Think of Abraham bargaining with God in the hills above Sodom. “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” Talk about chutzpah! And there’s a moment in the wilderness when the newly freed Israelites are “wailing” about manna—they think it’s boring food; they want meat—and Moses goes to God and complains about the job that he’s been given. Moses is very direct with God about his unhappiness as the leader of Israel. He doesn’t want the job anymore. He asks God to put somebody else in charge, or else kill him and get it over with. It almost seems disrespectful, how Moses talks to God, but God loves it. He loves the honesty so much he honors Moses with a special relationship. In fact, right after Moses does the worst of his complaining, God tells Miriam and Aaron that Moses is the only person on earth that He will speak with to “face to face.” God seems to treasure the fact that here, in Moses, He finally has someone who will deal with Him as if He’s fully and completely there, the way a person deals with any loved one. So I wanted to get that idea across in Winter Haven: the fact that the Creator of the universe would rather that we were hot or even cold, than lukewarm and distant. If we have doubts and questions, we should take them straight to God. Questioning can be an act of faith, if it’s done with the right attitude.
Reviewed by Tim George, Unveiled
Publisher: Bethany House
Publication Date: April 2008
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