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Reviewed by Ken Stark for Readers' Favorite
The world imagined by William R. Herr in his novel 5:30 Return is not a pleasant one. A designer drug called 'Jack' has turned Tucson into an ugly amusement park, where the rich can live out their basest fantasies with Jack as their excuse and a population of desperate addicts as their playthings. Juan Romano works inside the system, but only just. They call him Juan the Monster for good reason. His face is slowly rotting away under a mask of synthetic skin, and the rot doesn't stop there. And when Juan's best friend turns up dead and his client goes missing, the Monster will stop at nothing to get answers.
Herr's 5:30 Return is written in pure noir style, and the tone fits the story perfectly. Like the best in the genre, William R. Herr describes a world filled with users, abusers, hard-bitten cops and the self-indulgent rich eager to take a dip in the fetid sewer as long as they always come out clean. Of course there is the requisite bump in technology, but I liked that it was kept to a minimum. This was a world I still recognized. Perhaps one that I could even imagine lurking just around the corner. As it should be in this kind of story, only a handful of characters are fully fleshed, but Herr pulled out all the stops in creating Juan the Monster. He is the quintessential noir tough guy, part good, part bad, and all business. The only color he sees in his black and white world comes not from a person's skin, but from the badges separating the castes. Social commentary? Maybe. A peek into one possible future? Maybe that, too. But whatever else it is, 5:30 Return is a thrilling, adrenalin-fueled trip through the worst amusement park ever, and I'm glad I was along for the ride.