Haven is Massachusetts author Tom Deady’s first book, and right out of the gate, it has won a Stoker Award for the “superior achievement in a first novel” category. Not for the easily distracted, Haven is 498 pages of boys and underdogs against small-town terror in late-1970s New England.
The premise is this: a man (Paul Greymore) is locked away for crimes we are told again and again it’s not likely he committed. These are hideous crimes — the deaths of children. The markings on the bodies in and around Haven’s lake — what’s left of them — and the disappearances are just too weird. Greymore also has an alibi most times.
There’s an opportunistic, sociopathic cop (Chief Cody Crawford) who appears to have a not a just a hand, but likely an iron fist in the false incarceration of Greymore, a gentle but disfigured soul who is an obvious red herring. Greymore becomes violent only when pushed too far. This happens usually only when either Chief Crawford or his delinquent son Dale — who are both already past the point of violating the law themselves — decide to take out their individual psychosis out on Greymore or the local good kids. In the town of Haven, authority is quite clearly not to be trusted, and there is a clear, black–and-white distinction against good versus bad.
Like a Stephen King book, there’s a huge cast of characters, and likewise, it’s not always easy to keep them straight, at least at first. Telling the players apart gets easier as the pages turn, and thankfully, the chapters are more or less short, which helps with mental breaks.
Anyway, Greymore has been locked away in prison for 17 years, and just about as soon as he’s released, the killings and disappearances start up again, because of course they do. The most obvious scapegoat is Greymore, of course. Every time something goes wrong or someone ends up dead, the alcoholic Chief Crawford starts screaming for blood and Greymore’s head, even going so far as to flaunt the law and take the guy in for no reason or worse — plan to have the suspect murdered, by Crawford’s deliberate hand or the ever-popular, yet planned “suicide by cop.”
Two neighborhood kids, Denny and Billy, are caught up in the drama of the return of “The Butcher,” as the incarcerated Greymore was nicknamed. In particular, Denny’s mom is more or less a shell of her past self, as her husband and other son passed away in a car crash, and her father had died in a huge explosion at the secretive military base by the lake.
In Boston, a homeless man who sometimes goes by “Frank” and sometimes “Mossy,” depending on who he’s around, sees an item in the newspaper about Haven, and decides to go back to the town he escaped. We find out why later in the novel. Since I don’t want to spoil too much, I won’t explain why he gives up his drinking, cleans up, and goes to Haven, a town he’d fled a long time ago, nearly 20 years past, in fact. (In an archetypical fashion, this older gentleman would be seen as “the sage,” a figure who has the answers and teaches the young hero.)
As we go along further into the book, more tragic events occur, more psychotic breaks happen, and everyone is at their wits’ end during the humid summer days and nights in the little town. A literal monster lives in the lake and surrounding caves, and it’s up to an unlikely band of brave kids and outcasts to try to outwit both the creature and the human bad guys that would have them all dead, for one reason or another.
Deady’s strength is evoking a certain American nostalgia, underlined with good concepts. I feel that the young adult audience would be the perfect target for the coming of age story in a small town — with danger around every corner. I’m not quite sure if Haven has been marketed toward that demographic, but one could do far worse than to capture an audience that has both disposable income, time, and angst.
In the end, I’d love to have read Haven as tightened by an exceptional editor. At perhaps half of its 498 pages, Haven could really have knocked it out of the park. Now, don’t get me wrong; some people love long books, and others do not. Reading or consuming any form of art is what it is — a subjective experience. As Haven is in its current length, to me, there’s a lot of unnecessary repetition of themes and characters reiterating things, either by action or thought. However, I trust that in time, Deady will find a more confident voice (and editor), especially now with the Stoker Award shining a beacon his way.