Putting The Pieces In Place
R.B. Russell

Ex Occidente Press, 2009
Hardcover,128 pages, $35.00
Review by Mario Guslandi

After so many years of editing and publishing with his small imprint Tartarus Press, it was perhaps inevitable that sooner or later Ray Russell should try his hand at writing fiction himself.

Here it is, therefore, his debut collection, coming from a brand new Romania-based publishing house, Ex Occidente, devoted to dark fiction as well, and whose list of forthcoming books is apt to make salivate any horror fiction lover.

Russell’s own Tartarus Press is an imprint renowned for producing perfect, elegant volumes of classy contemporary dark literature, so unsurprisingly, as an author he presents us with a bunch of classy, tasteful stories of quiet horror told in an unassuming, polished narrative style. Mostly starting out as mainstream tales, Russell’s stories gradually convey a subtle feeling of disquiet as, page after page, the supernatural or the horrific unobtrusively creeps in.

The title piece “Putting The Pieces In Place” is a delicate ghost story featuring a collector obsessed with the memory of a prematurely dead young violinist, finally securing the only tape recording of one of the girl’s musical performances. He also manages to get much more by manipulating a woman with un uncanny resemblance to the deceased artist. The plot is mainly developed, in a restrained, refined fashion, by means of the dialogues between the collector and the lady who was instrumental in retrieving the tape.

“There’s Nothing That I Wouldn’t Do” is yet another accomplished example of quiet horror, so much so in that the final tragedy comes rather unexpectedly after pages of smooth and calm narrative. The tale is about a young British architect working on her PhD thesis in Ukraine, starting a shallow relationship with a local who takes so seriously the rather platonic affair to get to the more extreme consequences.

In the subtly unnerving “In Hiding,” a psychological conundrum taking place under the fierce Greek sun, a British MP running from a scandal has to face a puzzle concerning two men living in a small island. Are they both real or is one just a ghost? (And which one?)

“Eleanor”, perhaps the less convincing of the included stories is a melancholy piece about the power of imagination where an aged writer, creator of a famous female character, meets her in flesh and bone shortly before his death.

“Dispossessed” provides the dispassionate portrait of a passive woman whose life drifts from place to place until she finds trapped in a desperate predicament. But reality is not what it seems and the inexplicable (supernatural?) makes its sudden appearance right at the end of a captivating, beautifully told piece.

In short, an enticing, remarkable collection proving that it was high time Russell would start a career as a writer. I’m looking forward to his next book.

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