Bentley Little's The Return

Feb 17 2008 Published by under Horror

My horror blogging has motivated me to go out and broaden my horizons and read some authors I've never considered before.  Bentley Little's 2002 book The Return, which is ostensibly about a legendary Bigfoot-like monster, the Mogollon Monster, and an archaeological excavation which inadvertently awakens the creature.  This sounded like a story that I would enjoy, so I gave it a try!  Unfortunately, it didn't really hold up to its promise.  Details after the fold...

The story, which initially begins in the rural areas of New Mexico and Arizona and spreads out to apocalyptic proportions, really attempts to give an answer to the 'mystery' of the Anasazi Indians.  The Mogollon Monster is to a large extent a huge red-herring, and readers expecting some sort of traditional monster story are instead treated to a supernatural story involving wormholes, demonic possession, poltergeist activity, and ancient prophecies being fulfilled.   This in itself is somewhat a mean trick: I don't expect to be given the entire plot of a book on the cover, but it felt a bit like false advertising.  It was as if I bought a book about werewolves only to be told on page 6: "The werewolf was actually a vampire wearing a fur coat!"

Generally, the book is a bit too disorganized and never quite sure of what it wants to be.  Characters are introduced only to be inexplicably killed moments later, and there seems to be little explanation or justification for these scenes.  The 'monster' of the story is never completely fleshed out: its Achilles heel seems to come from nowhere, and the 'heroes' of the story are immune to its worst powers for no clear reason.

Perhaps even more vexing, there are scenes where surprising things happen which are not explained in detail.  For instance, during an archaeological dig in some Native American ruins, one of the main characters digs up a piece of ancient pottery which has a picture upon it.  To quote from the novel:

Melanie dusted off the piece of pottery, her frown deepening.  "This is strange."

"Did you find something?" Glen could hear the excitement in the professor's voice.

The woman nodded.

"What is it?"

"It's a shard from what looks to be a pitcher, judging by the pieces surrounding it."

"What's so strange about that?"

"There's a picture on it, a singular image rather than a continuous design."

"Yes?"

She held up the object, turned it towards him.  "It's a picture of me."

That's the end of the chapter.  The next chapter goes off in a completely different direction, and plenty of questions are left begging to be answered.  What sort of picture?  Is it a photographic likeness, or just a crude sketch that looks similar to her?   Is the image of her in traditional garments, or dressed exactly like she is in modern clothing?  We're never really told, which is incredibly unsatisfying.  Such an unusual occurrence should merit a bit more description.

In the end, the novel tries, but fails, to bring about a vision of an apocalypse beginning in the haunted western states.  It should be compared with Graham Masterton's Burial, an earlier novel which deals with almost identical themes but pulls it off successfully.   I suspect that Little was being overly ambitious with this work, and considering he is generally considered to be an excellent horror author I'll perhaps try one of his better reviewed novels before I give up on him entirely.

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