It’s a slow news day that brings TV news journalist Bill Allenby to the Bernasconi Hills in Southern California to report on a lunar eclipse. It’s a rare one because it coincides with the winter solstice and so Bill has a special guest for the occasion – Andrew Leland, a self-promoting ‘watered-down’ scientist who was once, many years ago, regarded as the heir to Stephen Hawking. It all goes well until Allenby notices a green spot against the now re-emerged Moon and it is getting bigger and bigger. Everyone runs except for Leland, who, before the eyes of the cameras, rises into the sky and is abducted by a giant spaceship, not to be seen again for six years but most definitely having left quite an impression on the TV audience.
When Leland turns up again six years later, walking in the desert, he denies the entire experience. But that doesn’t stop his extraordinary fame, not to mention his influence in converting hordes of people from conventional religion into another type entirely, one that has more to do with the stars and aliens than with heaven. Young scientist, and drop-out, Shawn Ferris is obsessed by Leland. He believes that he can do what nobody else can – make Leland talk about what really happened during those missing years. And so Shawn hunts Leland down. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one. A secret organisation is after Leland and soon they want Shawn, too. It’s not long before both men are on the run together and Shawn realises just how big the stakes are. The mystery remains to be solved, though – what did happen to Andrew Leland on that hilltop in California?
It’s difficult to imagine a premise more enticing than the one that made me so desperate to read The Return – alien abductions, spaceships, strange technology, a splash of science, secret organisations, conspiracies, people on the run…. This book ticks all the right boxes for me and I dived into it as soon as it arrived.
On the whole, I think that The Return lived up to that promise. I found it very well written, with some interesting turns of phrase that were at times quite poignant and full of meaning. Whatever happens to Leland and Shawn through this novel has consequences for themselves and for others. There’s a sense that what is happening is of greater significance than individual lives, but to my mind I found an even larger sense that individual lives matter more than ever, and some here are discarded in ways I found extremely sad. I’m not often moved in a science fiction thriller but there were a few occasions here when I really was. This is also because I came to feel quite invested in the main characters, especially Shawn and someone else that I didn’t expect to care for at all at the beginning. I’m giving nothing more away – read it to meet these people. Leland is unknowable – and I think that’s part of the point. I found it hard to engage with him, perhaps my only issue with the novel, but I’m sure Shawn would say the same thing.
But the main mood here is one of thrills as we pursue the hunt for Leland across much of the United States and Alicante in Spain (I particularly enjoyed the latter as I was there myself only last month!). It’s exciting stuff and I didn’t want to put it down at all. I thoroughly enjoyed The Return. I loved the story and the people caught up in it and I really, really wanted to know what happens!