the return

Bentley Little
Signet
2002

His first memory was of Delaware Punch.

Springerville is famous for the legend of the Mogollon Monster.  Of course nobody really believes it.  It’s just a good campfire story, something to attract gullible tourists…until an excavation team unearths the figurine of a screaming woman, the jawbone of a deformed animal, and a child’s toy.  How odd that they were buried together.  Odd, too, is the foul odor lingering in the air, the strange noises at night, and the man’s face found hanging from a tree.  Now the locals are locking their doors.  Because after sundown, campfire stories can seem very, very real.

I’ve only read two of Bentley Little’s novels – this one, and The Town – but already the writer has caused me to harbor some apprehension for even considering visiting Arizona.  Or much of the Southwest area of this nation of ours, for that matter.

Take for instance The Return.  The novel is based on the disappearance of the mysterious Anasazi tribe, an ancient Pueblo peoples that existed and disappeared at the same time as the Aztecs and Mayans.  This isn’t the first time the Anasazi and the mystery surrounding their sudden disappearance has been used in fiction; the foremost – to me at least – being Louis L’Amour’s 1987 novel The Haunted Mesa.

Here in Bentley Little’s The Return, the story involves a University archeology dig that unearths something that may be a clue to the mystery behind the Anasazi, but something else much older than the ancient natives has reawakened, something that maybe had something to do with the ancient peoples’ sudden exit from existence, and now it’s doing the same thing to the modern day towns that have sprung up since its last appearance.  Next thing you know, the townfolk in the famed Four Corners area of the Southwest start acting weird…and by “weird” I mean savagely beating and killing outsiders like savages, natural disasters of Biblical proportions, and mass disappearances into an invisible quantum vortex.  And only a small handful of people seem to be immune to the ancient creature’s influence and must take a stand to bring it down.

Some of my favorite horror stories are based on native North American folklore.  And The Return isn’t my first exposure to the Anasazi in fiction.  The Return has a story that flows in a pretty good clip, save for a couple of slower parts.  The complaint that I do have, here, is that after a really great atmosphere building up on the tension and coming to a good head…the big climactic end confrontation is rather anticlimactic.  Matter of fact, there really isn’t much of an end conflict if you really want to get down to it.  The last ten pages itself will leave you thinking, “huh, that’s it?”

That said, otherwise, The Return is a pretty decent speculative horror novel that feels more organic than most. Check it out sometime, you may be surprised.