BOOK REVIEW: Haven by Tom Deady

An exceptional coming of age horror novel. Weighty, but never boring, this is exactly MY kind of book.

A young man, disfigured and shamed, is sent to prison for 17 years in 1961 for murders he claims he never committed. Now free, he comes back to his hometown of Haven, Massachusetts to start his life over with the help of his friend and mentor, Catholic Priest, Father McCarthy. The chief of police Crawford put this guy away in 1961, and immediately wants to put him back, while his own son terrorizes some younger boys in town. But is something more afoot in Haven? And why do there never seem to be any roadkill left near the lake?

That’s more than enough of a taste for this terrific tour-de-force of a novel. The characters in this book ALL ring true and cause you to fall in love with them or despise them from your very core, depending on which one it is. The writing is very natural, not over the top, and straight forward. The prose is gentle, but effective, the dialogue never fails to come across as authentic, and the tension starts on page one and doesn’t stop building until the final one. I’ve read plenty of terrific books over the years, and I’ve come to adore the coming of age horror sub-genre. Stephen King’s IT is often what I consider the standard bearer, along with Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon (though not horror), and HAVEN takes its place amongst the titans of the genre and is clearly comfortable there. The novel never tries too hard to impress, but does so anyway page after page.

I really enjoyed the straight-forward storytelling here. As I said before, Deady never goes over the top, never abandons the naturalistic style he employs, and this is one of the books greatest strengths. Deady has no need to impress you. He’s already done it with this masterful work. The story is both simple, yet deep, spanning decades while still feeling intimate and immediate. The stakes are high, but they are presented in such a way that only a handful of characters are aware of what’s happening, keeping that intimacy I described front and center throughout.

This is not an extreme horror novel that revels in buckets of gore and depravity. This is about real-to-life small town folks facing down something far more powerful than themselves. And that’s part of its beauty. What would YOU do if you found yourself face to face with the horror this book presents? I think for most of us, Tom Deady has shown precisely how the average Joe would react.

This novel has a very mainstream appeal, while still feeling like very much its own thing. It isn’t trying to be something it isn’t, not trying to copy anything else. There are elements here that pay homage to the greats of this sub-genre, yet it manages to be completely its own, unique story. And while there IS a monster (along with some human monsters as well), nothing supernatural is present here. I like supernatural, and think this kind of story is a fine fit for such an approach, but by avoiding the supernatural, Deady manages to wed this tale to reality in such a way that even the unnamable beast within the pages seems frightfully plausible. And I was never quite able to shake that. This speaks to magnificent, understated writing.

If you like horror in the vein of Stephen King at his best when writing about children, you’re in for a treat here. AND you’re in for something Mr. King hasn’t given us already. At no point did I feel like I was reading a riff on anything else, but still appreciated its sense of knowing whom its peers are, respecting them, and doing its own thing.

If you’re not a horror fan, you’ll likely still have a great time with this book. It isn’t overly gory, though it is suspenseful throughout, and the characters are drawn in such a way that you’d want to follow and know more about them even if this were a cozy, romantic mystery. But never fear, horror lovers, there’s still plenty here to get your hackles up.

There’s nothing to consider here, other than the format you want to read this book in. Print, digital, audio, all are available, so there’s literally ZERO excuse to skip this one. And if you do, you’re the lesser for it. Find it in print, digital, or audio here.

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