Friday 23 May 2014

The Dark Return of Time

I find myself in a slightly awkward position...

But enough of my sordid private life. No, but seriously, it is difficult to review some books without giving away rather too much. Some people hate spoilers with a passion. I'm not one of them, oddly enough. Even if I know the key twist in a movie it doesn't bother me too much. But I am in a weird minority, I know. So I will try to review a book that has a twist without giving key plot points away and generally being an idiot.

The new novel from R(ay). B. Russell is described as a 'quiet thriller', and it does indeed seem - at first - to fall squarely into the crime genre. A young man by the name of Flavian Bennett has undergone a traumatic loss. He moves to Paris to work in his father's British bookshop.

It seems that working quietly among the first editions is exactly what Flavian needs. But then things starts to go awry. The shop is visited by a pretentious-seeming bibliophile, Reginald Hopper, to whom Flavian takes an instant, if slightly irrational, dislike. Flavian notices that Hopper seems to be of interest to a young Englishwoman, Candy Smith, who bears a slight but disturbing resemblance to Flavian's dead fiancée.

This much is indeed the stuff of mystery. Indeed, the book reminded me of one of Ruth Rendell's stand-alone novels, not least because of its plain, dispassionate style. And, as in much of Rendell's fiction, we are dealing with several damaged and/or dangerous individuals. When Flavian witnesses a violent abduction he suspects that Hopper may be involved. Candy claims that Hopper is indeed a very dangerous man, but one who has escaped justice, but she is not the most reliable of informants. And how does any of this relate to the book that Hopper is obsessed with owning, a very obscure volume entitled The Dark Return of Time?

Suffice to say that the author does wrap things up satisfactorily, thanks to the effective use of a well-respected narrative device. Along the way there are some interesting bits of bibliophilic detail, a dig at the poor old Folio Society, a few points about what it means to be a Brit in Paris, and some action sequences that are very well-handled. Russell does not ask the reader to believe than an ordinary person can act like a Hollywood hero, but does give his characters the wit to seize chances when they are presented. He also wisely avoids saying too much about the mysterious book. What he does reveal is unnerving to Flavian and to the reader.

While not a supernatural tale within the strict definition of the term, this short novel offers the reader a world that is slightly out of kilter, if not quite that of a nightmare. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes intellectual thrillers with a touch of the outré. I'll add that, as with all Swan River Press volume, the dust jacket and cover art are rather splendid.

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