Signet, New York
September 2002 (pb)
A couple of people who have read these reviews over the last two years or so—come to think of it, those couple might be all of the people who have read these reviews—have asked if I have ever disliked any of the books I have read and reviewed. I looked back over the archived reviews and found that, in fact, they were mostly very positive. By an almost serendipitous coincidence, as I was thinking about this fact, I found myself reading a real stinker. Hence, this review!
I think I disliked Bentley Little’s The Return because it seemed to promise so much—and it had great paperback edition cover art! The premise, while not wildly original, had always piqued my interest before. It was another fictional explanation of the “mysterious disappearance” of the Anasazi—a topic that, as I have hinted, has never failed to get my imagination juices flowing. The opening chapters promise much, including a prologue featuring the famous potboiler author Zane Grey and his possible confrontation with the legendary “Mogollon Monster,” a sort of Southwest version of Sasquatch or Bigfoot. The hero, a computer nerd who drops everything to hit the road as he faces a mid-life crisis, is a little dopey right from the outset, but his taking up with an archaeological field crew in need of unskilled shovel bums would seem to offer the opportunity for his escape from terminal dopiness. Ah hah! I thought—the old plot twist in which the doofus protagonist becomes a macho hero by joining a rough and tumble group of archaeologists, who ultimately save the world, or at least Springerville, New Mexico. Unfortunately, while he does indeed set out to save civilization as we know it, he still remains a doofus.
The actual plot of this book is a bit difficult to summarize, but basically the archaeological excavation at Springerville is opening a sort of “hellmouth” –you Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans will know exactly what that means– that bring forth several weird manifestations that ultimately can explain what happened to the Anasazi. I will let the author speak for himself as he describes some of these manifestations:
Vince told the rest of the story. He explained how his nephew had seen something outside the window of his bedroom after returning from the scout ranch and had drawn a picture of it; how one friend’s cat turned strange and spooky; how another friend’s dog had killed a neighbor; how people and animals had started disappearing into the ruins…and then what had happened today: missing people, the monster in the bedroom, dust devils with his own parents’ faces, ceramic carrots that looked like the dust devils. (p. 214).
I think I could handle the spooky cats and the killer dogs, but personally I can’t imagine anything more frightening than ceramic carrots! And if that weren’t bad enough, there is a scene in which ancient artifacts levitate and begin marching under their own power—apparently to join the powers that are animating them and determined to destroy civilization as we know it—or at least Springerville, New Mexico. While this scene may have been intended to strike fear in the hearts of readers, I couldn’t get the image of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice directing the marching mops in Walt Disney’s classic “Fantasia” out of my mind’s eye.
Well, it should be obvious by now that this book—archaeology thriller or not, fairly under whelmed me. Bentley Little is a prolific and popular writer of horror fiction. Perhaps this is not one of his better efforts, but I will nonetheless be unlikely to lay down any more of my own hard-earned cash to buy another of his works. Now if I found one at a garage sale or a second-hand bookstore, and I thought I might learn more about those evil ceramic carrots—who knows?