I try to be nice even when I don’t like a book. People tend to forget that a book doesn’t just happen; there is a full team behind every single one (not including those lone-wolf self-publishers). If something is poorly written, I’ll say so, but if my objection isn’t so objective, I make that clear–with courtesy and respect, when possible.
Haven is a mystery that focuses on a psychic, Jessie, who is part of a private group called Haven. The reason for her being in this group isn’t made clear in this book, but it raises some questions, as her only abilities are seeing ghosts and reading her sister’s mind, both of which are unstable abilities that she isn’t comfortable using. She returns to her hometown after fifteen years to find that a clever and evil man is afoot in her town, and may be targeting her and her sister, Emma.
I had a few issues with this particular work that caused me to stop about 1/4 of the way through. I freely admit that I haven’t finished, and this review doesn’t cover the ending, or even the middle. I’ve been deterred by the main character, Jessie, who–when not sounding pretentious about being psychic by saying how “the mainstream has it all wrong” and then saying things the mainstream would definitely know–is completely and unrelentingly defined by her traumatic backstory.
Now, a difficult past is a good thing for a character. It can add complexity, personal stake in the narrative, and an empathic reason for the reader to continue. The problem is that her trauma is obvious from the first time it’s mentioned, even though the narration treats it like an unfathomable mystery. She mentions needing to uncover/remember what happened to her in nearly every conversation with Emma, and thinks about it when talking to other people. When she doesn’t bring it up, the narration does, which quickly becomes overbearing as it leaves little room for character development and ancillary description.
Another major point for me is the sister, Emma, who has been having nightmares of girls being murdered nearby since a concussion two years prior to the events of the story. While her (male) doctors have told her it’s just a manifestation of the tension of her accident, and the narration makes it clear that the sisters aren’t close, she refuses to mention them even after Jessie asks if there were recent murders in the area. This bothers the hell out of me for two reasons: One, someone does it in nearly every horror/mystery movie/book; and two, it is almost unanimously done by women, and I can’t stand such pushover female characters. Even though she’s described as a powerful businesswoman in her town, she comes across as someone who just sits around and waits to be useful.
The last point for me was the flat side characters. The leader of a psychic FBI unit, Noah Bishop, is the classic, “I don’t say anything because I’m so mysterious, even when the information I have might save your life” character. His wife, Maggie, runs Haven, and is repeatedly described as the office mother (though she doesn’t do anything motherly aside from caring about her staff, which any good boss would do).
The icing here is the killer–some portions of the story are set from the point of view of the antagonist, who the narration describes with such painstaking mystery-genre language that it feels almost like a handbook. He is described as calculating and methodical almost every time he comes up, and can’t seem to stop thinking about “his hunt” and “his trap” that he laid out in his lair in the middle of the woods. Instead of giving the impression of a serial killer, it gives the impression it is trying to sound like a serial killer.
Like I said, I try to be nice, so I will note that, if you aren’t familiar with psychics or detective stories, this would certainly be a nice read. There are other books set in the same universe, so this story probably means a lot more to those who’ve read those as well, and there is a clear enough dynamic between the characters that emotional undertones and sneaking subplots make themselves known.
It is a well written story, and I have to emphasize that, because it’s why I’m going to finish reading. If I get to the end and decide I was wrong about the points above, I’ll post a follow-up. For now, I can’t really recommend it to those well-versed in these topics, but anyone who is looking to get into detective fiction wouldn’t be sorry to pick this up.
That’s all for this week’s book review! If any of you have requests, just let me know (and give me some time to read it). I’m happy to read your books as well, so long as you provide me with a copy. Until next time, be well, my friends.