cover image The Return

The Return

Joseph Helmreich. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $25.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-250-05219-3

An artfully crafted opening line (“If the conspiracy theorists are right and it never happened, then the day it didn’t happen began innocently enough”) paves the way for an intriguing setup in Helmreich’s debut novel of humankind’s first encounter with alien intelligence. The coinciding of a lunar eclipse with the winter solstice prompted television coverage that inadvertently captured live video of an alien abduction in California. The victim, “washed-up celebrity physicist” Dr. Andrew Leland, who had been retained to provide expert commentary on the celestial event, was seen lifted up into the sky by an unseen force emanating from a green structure. Almost seven years later, Leland is found wandering in a desert, but he denies knowing anything about the abduction, claiming that he retired from scientific research and has spent those years working as a farmhand. Brilliant young physicist Shawn Ferris becomes obsessed with learning the truth about what happened to Leland. The plot takes some clever turns, though the ending doesn’t quite live up to the beginning, and Helmreich’s characters are satisfyingly multidimensional. (Mar.)