Austin Williams’ “hunches” (fragmented visions of the past and present/future) helped him achieve an unprecedented close rate as a cold case detective (as well as the enmity of his colleagues). Fortunately, his talent is just as useful in private investigation, and when his grandmother’s dying wish is for him to find out what happened to her brother, Thomas, there’s no way Austin can say no. Austin’s preliminary research and visions uncover a troubling pattern of disappearances from the Havenwood sanitarium where Thomas was consigned to, and the best place to find the records and history he needs is Saranac Lake, the small town where the abandoned Havenwood resides. Austin’s suspicions only grow when he visits the local historical association and discovers that the temporary director, Jaime Miller, is the imperiled mystery man from a vision, a man for whom he already has extremely protective feelings.
While Jaime finds Austin incredibly attractive and intriguing, he’s equally interested in Austin’s mission to discover the truth about his great-uncle, and quickly offers his assistance. Having already received hostile responses to even basic questions and evidence of a large scale cover-up regarding Havenwood, Austin has misgivings about accepting Jaime’s help. Moreover, as a former cop, Austin knows how far people will go to keep even small transgressions secret, and in a small tourist town where reputation means everything to most of its citizens (many of whom were tied to the sanitarium in one way or another), he recognizes how high the stakes are for anyone involved. However, between Jaime’s invaluable research skills and position and simply being drawn to the younger man, Austin doesn’t refuse.
For Jaime, getting to spend as much time as possible with the hot PI seems like a once in a lifetime chance and well worth the risk; he can have a good time while Austin is in town without having to deal with the inevitable demise of a relationship once Jaime reveals he can see ghosts. It doesn’t take long for Jaime to realize that Austin’s caution is warranted as admonitions to stop investigating become more sinister, but his fears pale in comparison to his surprisingly intense feelings for Austin, so leaving the man is not an option. Surrounded by secrets, ghosts, and suspects, the only way the two men can unbury the truth (without getting buried themselves) is to lay it all on the line and trust in their abilities and each other.
Full disclosure, I have a complicated relationship with Brice’s work and having recently read a story I considered one of her worst, I was trepidatious when I realized she had written Haven. I’m glad to say my concerns were unwarranted as Haven is a charming, well-paced addition to the multi-author Magic Emporium series (each book a standalone connected by the appearance of Marden’s Magic Emporium, a shop that can manifest anywhere, but only once and only when someone’s in dire need). Haven has the air of a cozy mystery, minus some of the inane/insane hubris and shenanigans cozies typically have.
Austin and Jaime are solid, personable characters with believable chemistry, though they skirt the line of being too similar. Their struggles, experiences, and mental interiors are basically the same—rooted in the unreliable psy abilities that bring stigma and negatively impact relationships, leaving them isolated and lonely. Since Haven is written in first-person, dual POV and the only real difference between Jaime and Austin is their jobs, it’s easy to forget whose POV you’re in and/or for their thoughts and desires to seem repetitive since, about 9 times out of 10, that same thought will show up almost, if not exactly, word for word in the next POV shift. However, the MCs being similar in this core way is a positive too. With their shared relationship woes, they recognize how special their connection is since it’s deeper than any emotions they felt in their longest/best relationships, giving them a, logicalish basis for the insta-love, which I like.
I also enjoy the central mystery; Brice puts an interesting slant on some of the more disturbing aspects of the history of mental illness facilities: how too often they preyed on their extremely vulnerable population; how said population had an atrociously sizable subset who were dumped there because they were “too different”; and how the “aid” provided to some was, at best, forced imprisonment. Haven manages to take a weighty topic and make it relevant to the story without sounding sanctimonious or exploiting it, and while the climax follows the usual cozy mystery format, it is handled well and depicts an element of the initial aftermath that typically gets glossed over before the usual off-page tidying-up happens. Best of all—there is NO big misunderstanding! Ya’ll, I can’t tell you how happy this makes me! My complicated feelings for Brice’s works stem from the fact that the big misunderstanding is one of my least favorite tropes and all the Brice books I’ve read have used it…badly. As imaginative and creative as she can be, she used the trope in the most obvious, unimaginative ways. Haven isn’t hampered by this pace-ruining baggage; the narrative runs smoothly and efficiently and allows her creativity to “shine.” Haven is a quick fun read that even people not keen on insta-love may enjoy.