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Raymond B. Russell
The Dark Return of Time
Swan River Press
Ireland Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-1-786-80001-8
Publication Date: 05-10-2014
134 Pages; €30

Date Reviewed: 05-18-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014

Index Mystery, Horror, General Fiction, Fantasy  

Flavian Bennett has a lot to forget. Living in Paris with his father, selling English-language books makes this a lot easier than it should be. Sometimes, forgetting should he hard. Ray Russell is well-known as the co-proprietor, with Rosalie Parker of Tartarus Press, which publishes some of the best supernaturally-tinged but generally quiet fiction you can hope to find anywhere. One might well presume that his novel would follow suit, and to some degree this is the case.

But 'The Dark Return of Time' offers a reading experience that is understated, atmospheric yet chock-a-block with incident, crime and no small amount of violence. It's a curious and effective mix, at once exciting and tense, with a pretty straightforward crime fiction plot and a wistful undertone that adds a deep resonance to matters. Russell manages to pack more into his 134 pages than many other authors get out of 400+. 'The Dark Return of Time' does something nobody else is doing and does it spectacularly well.

Walking home from work one evening in Paris, Flavian Bennett is witness to a rather spectacular crime. But he's not the only one. He reports the crime to the police, who don't seem all that interested — or is it just that he's clearly not a local? As Flavian tries to track the other witness, he and his father get a request to seek out a supposedly rare book titled The Dark Return Time. It's just about as elusive as the crime, the witness and Candy, a new woman in Flavian's life whose story seems to conflict with others.

Russell is a master of conflicting atmospheres. The crime fiction elements here seem gritty and real, while the backdrop and Flavian's worldview are far more internalized. There's a small cast of characters, impressively well-crafted, who will stay with readers outside the pages. The prose is crisp and chameleonic. Some scenes have the feel of a classic English ghost story, and others the brute force of thug fiction. Everything rings true, and Russell manages to slip fron one reality to next with no effort.

Given its compact nature, 'The Dark Return of Time' the full, rich feel of Russell's novel is pretty surprising. He crafts a space that feels lived in and one the reader will experience as extending beyond what we are told. 'The Dark Return of Time' is a mystery in all senses of the word. The elements of crime fiction are present and handled with page-turning expertise. But the larger sense of mystery, the perception that there is more than we can know about ourselves and the world around us, this sensibility emerges as well. Russell's smart, dark novel is thrilling, sensuous and memorable. It will write itself into your mind, and afterwards, you may well ponder if there is actually much of a difference between thinking — and reading.

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