Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Dark Return Of Time by R.B. Russell, Swan River Press

Early on in R.B. Russell's second novella, it becomes clear this is to be a taut, conventionally constructed thriller of the old school. And yet . . . In present-day Paris, a bookseller's son bears witness to a brutal double kidnapping; as does a second, well-dressed observer who swiftly makes himself scarce. This mystery witness then visits the son's father's bookshop, and, with insinuating charm, uses a ruse by which to now observe this increasingly wary lad. This is particularly well-handled as Russell succeeds in placing the reader in the role of the book- seller's slightly spoiled and whinging son. Russell - a known authority on strange and uncanny fiction - revealed his 'strange' influences in his first notable novella, 'Bloody Baudelaire.' I say 'revealed'; glimpsed might be a better noun. For Russell is one of those quiet conjurors whose uncanny moments are often three-quarters-hidden behind a slatted blind of noonday normalcy. So here, where the book of the title is the space of semi-recall amid the plot's otherwise hard-boiled, Simenonesque setting. (The title itself the banner to an anonymously penned memoir, its hidden significance leading to a revelatory twist). One false note latterly sounds from Candy; the abused but gutsy femme-fatale, whose initially credible duality finally descends into a cliched pay-off. One, you feel, this emotionally authentic tale should have bettered. Still, Russell excels in enticing the necessary feeling of jeopardy in the reader using a focused economy of language right up to its breathless end.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

The Strange Thirteen by Richard B. Gamon, Ramble House / Dancing Tuatara Press

Pulp fiction by the mid-1920s' hit an era skeptical of Kipling and jaded by War. It also had an eye reflecting the new medium of the movie matinee. However slow or arch the acting, the audience were assured the inter-titles - and excitable cranks-per-minute - got them to the point. While certain writers for the weekly paper genre cut their teeth upon them before dropping the pseudonym and making it under their own names - or a version of their own - as screen- writers or novelists, others, in both media, vanished without trace. Such appears to have been the case with Richard B. Gamon, originally (and perhaps solely) published by the wonderfully named Henry Drane - an author-subsidized inde- pendent - in 1925. Editor John Pelan, in his Introduction, notes the existence of a novel - 'Warren Of Oudh' - and little else; that is, other than word-of-mouth evidence of several other short tales in likely the same publication. (The equally wonderfully named 'Weekly Tale Teller'). Gamon, Pelan believes, must've spent some time in India, 'most likely in the military.' Certain descriptive words may require an Anglo-Indian dictionary while the narrative flow is mildly awkward and contemporarily arch. For these are Raj tales, with transatlantic characters and narrative tang, to appeal to the broadly spreading markets of both paper and film. There is also just enough surprise in the stories - particularly in the first half of the book - to warrant re- discovery today. Nightly summonings of a four-armed 'god,' mystical shamans and seances evoking past settings and lives abound and are well enough wrought. While Gamon reveals a view of the locals surprisingly sympathetic for the time, they are still rarely given the benefit of the doubt, when in doubt. Still, comparatively liberal for the time. A word of warning. This is a print-on-demand publication of a text in the public domain. Consequently, typos abound. Yet, this is an ongoing presence in such releases so regular buyers may take it on the eye.