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Review of Putting the Pieces in Place
by Brian J. Showers, Rue Morgue #88
Students of the strange tale may already know Ray Russell as the publisher behind Tartarus Press, which has published definitive editions by distinguished authors such as Robert Aickman and Arthur Machen. Russell's experiences as a publisher have made him well familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of his literary pedigree, and this awareness is on full display in Putting the Pieces in Place.
The horrors in Russell's debut five-story mini-collection are of the discreet variety, like the subtleties of a fine wine. Each story to some degree features aesthetes exchanging the security of the everyday for undiscovered countries.
The title story concerns a semi-recluse preoccupied with a deceased violinist. Already living in the musician's old house, he sends a representative to Venice to retrieve a tape of her only known recording. This is certainly a ghost story, but perhaps one in which the ghost never manifests. Instead, Russell skilfully gives us the impression of presence.
"In Hiding" is about an encounter between two Englishmen who have retired to a Greek island, each under a cloud of shame. This is another ghost story — and yet it isn't. As in "Putting the Pieces in Place" Russell leaves us with questions of perception: "His mind uses a kind of logic of its own to understand the world, but it's not one that makes sense to anyone else." We are confronted with this same question of subjective uncertainty in two other stories in this collection.
In "Eleanor" an elderly author's fictional character appears to him in the flesh at a SF convention. Here we have shades of Machen, whose fictions were also in the habit of entering the real world (cf. The Three Impostors).
Russell deals in possibilities beyond the rational. In her afterword to Putting the Pieces in Place, Elizabeth Brown writes, "Ray Russell is fascinated by the way we can trick ourselves." As with Henry James, one might ask whether Russell is telling stories of the supernatural or of the psychological. It comes down to perception and this superb collection illustrates how each of us has a different way of putting the pieces in place.
Praise for Putting the Pieces in Place
"Ray Russell's stories in Putting the Pieces in Place are captivating for their depth of mystery and haunting melancholy. These qualities place Russell in a tradition of authors that includes Sheridan Le Fanu and Ramsey Campell, storytellers whose works proceed with a creeping uneasiness that leaves a lasting impression on the reader."
- Thomas Ligotti
". . . 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. . . . 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." Read the full review here.
- Mario Guslandi, Hellnotes
"R.B. Russell has produced a work of timeless elegance which wouldn’t be out of place among the classic European ghost stories collections. The stories are all richly enigmatic with a subtle horror subtext. The European setting give the stories a distinctive feel, everything here is slightly, subtly different.
- Highlander's Book Reviews
"As with Henry James, one might ask whether Russell is telling stories of the supernatural or of the psychological. It comes down to perception and this superb collection illustrates how each of us has a different way of putting the pieces in place."
- Brian J. Showers, Rue Morgue
"In Putting the Pieces in Place R.B. Russell plays with human emotions without drawing a perceptible line between reality and fiction, passion and obsession, and creates an atmosphere of unease without pointing exactly the reason for it."
- Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews
"Russell’s horror is profoundly internal – the horrors of alienation, of loss, of obsession, even of love. Fans of Walter de la Mare take note . . . Hartley makes a good point of reference . . . for like him and his successor Robert Aickman (and by that logic his predecessor Henry James also deserves a mention), Russell is concerned primarily with giving you a glimpse of daily life gradually warped into another perverse shape without you knowing it. . . an outstanding collection."
- Andy McQuaide, GoreZone, June 2009
"In a perceptive afterword, Elizabeth Brown remarks that in these stories 'Russell leaves the door open to the supernatural and his characters are forced to question what has happened to them, and in turn they start to doubt themselves'. One thing that is in no doubt, however, is the author's gift for a finely-turned sentence and a well-crafted tale."
- David Longhorn, Supernatural Tales 15
Praise for Bloody Baudelaire
- Reggie Oliver
"Russell ... mixes menace, mystery and romance in a plot that keeps the reader teasingly off-balance and guessing how matters will resolve themselves until the tale’s final twist ending."
- Publisher's Weekly
"Russell is a master of subtlety, enfolding the reader in a smart net of elegant prose and ambiguous facts. A mainstream piece or a gothic novella..? It's up to you to decide."
- Mario Guslandi at The Zone
" . . . it is something seriously decadent and Dorian Gray and Stephen Poliakoff and pre-Raphaelite . . . with Elizabeth-Bowen-esque nihilism of a fractured soul. The Tabula Rasa of love ... and a rite of torture that unfolds so slowly in such a quick book, one is driven along by it. This whole force of onward fiction has a very clever ending. I believed every word."
- Des Lewis, Weirdmonger
"A book of dark mysteries and subtle psychology . . . timeless elegance."
- Highlander's Book Reviews
" . . . a first rate weird tale wrapped in multiple layers of tension that Mr. Russell expertly stokes and manipulates."
- Speculative Fiction Junkie
" . . . a jittery, intelligent conundrum that leaves the shadowy questions raised by Cliffe House and its inhabitants with readers well after the book has been placed back on the shelf."
- The Grim Blogger
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