Review – Putting the Pieces in Place

R.B. Russell

You will never this read book. That’s right. You will never read this book. The reason has nothing to do with its quality but instead is attributable to the fact that it became nearly impossible to find shortly after publication. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that I had to work harder to get my hands on a copy of R.B. Russell’s debut collection of short stories, Putting the Pieces in Place, then I have ever had to work to find any other book.

My initial interest in the book was a result of the praise heaped on it by two of my favorite book bloggers: Colin of Tales from the Black Abyss and Mihai of Dark Wolf’s Fantasy Reviews. Interest blossomed into a more pressing hunger after I finished reading Mr. Russell’s second book, Bloody Baudelaire (review here), which was excellent and stood out enough to make it onto my Top 5 Reads of 2009 list.

After months of searching every nook and cranny of the internet, I finally managed to find a copy of Putting the Pieces in Place. While it was definitely worth the wait and effort required to track down a copy, Bloody Baudelaire is the superior work in my opinion, which is good news for Mr. Russell’s potential readers since copies of the latter are still available.

Putting the Pieces in Place is a collection of five short stories. The first story, “Putting the Pieces in Place,” is the most conventional of the five and is more or less a traditional ghost story. It is the story of a man obsessed with collecting everything that has any connection with Emily Butler, a violinist who he clandestinely heard play one evening when he was young and who died tragically. The distinguishing characteristic of this story for me is the great gulf of melancholy that it leaves in its wake.

Next is “There’s Nothing That I Wouldn’t Do,” a disturbing tale about a young woman studying abroad and the consequences of her relative indifference towards a young man’s affections. This is probably the most straightforward story in the collection.

The next story, “In Hiding,” is my favorite of the five. In it, a British politician seeking refuge in a small Greek village from a scandal back home is invited to visit an island off the coast. While happy and tranquil on the surface, the two men he meets there are not what they initially seem. This is the most subtle and satisfying tale in the book and in several ways reminds me of the stories of Jean Ray.

“Eleanor” is my least favorite in the collection. An elderly author and creator of a famous science fiction character encounters her at a science fiction convention.

In the final story, “Dispossessed,” a young woman finds herself without a place to live when the elderly woman she cares for dies. As she is about to leave, a member of the family informs her that he owns some apartments and that she is welcome to stay in one of them until she finds her bearings. What follows is a series of creepy and ultimately violent events.

The hallmark of these stories is their subtlety. The best of them embed a grain of quiet unease in the reader which swells as each story progresses. Mr. Russell, more so than most authors of horror and the strange tale, knows that the greatest source of unease isn’t necessarily the obviously odd or frightening, but is often the slow weirdness that can creep into a conversation that is slightly off kilter or the wanderings of the mind and feelings of a character who lacks direction. Putting the Pieces in Place is a wonderful debut from an author who is among those leading the way in blending horror and the strange tale. I prefer his second book to this collection only because Bloody Baudelaire contains a sense of atmosphere and layers of tension that Putting the Pieces in Place does not.

The True First

Putting The Pieces in Place was first published by Ex Occidente Press in January of 2009. There were only 400 copies made and good luck finding one of them! However, as I said above, copies of Bloody Baudelaire are still floating around and Mr. Russell also has a forthcoming collection being published by PS Publishing in the not too distant future.

[This review was not based on a review copy]

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