by F. Paul Wilson
Recommended Ages: 14+
Jack is still trying to live life his way—which means being nonexistent in the eyes of the System. No criminal record. No tax filings. No social security number. Fake identities only. The rapid pace of technology both helps and hinders him in this quest. Email and voicemail are easier to deal with than having to check the answering machine in a dummy office. Credit cards, paid off promptly though in the name of dead children, make it easier to go unnoticed as he buys supplies for his problem-fixing business. On the other hand, government databases make it harder to get away with all this victimless identity theft. It's hard for a hands-on kind of guy to keep up with the fast-changing world, especially when (going by the books' publication dates) last summer was sixteen years ago. It's hard to stay committed to a risky, often violent line of work when there's a beautiful woman worrying about you and a sweet little girl counting on you. And that's not even bringing up Jack's Dad, who wants him to move down to Florida and get a real job.
Meanwhile, he has things to do. Jack works two cases simultaneously in this installment. One of his clients wants help stopping his sister being beaten up by her husband. That's simple enough. Jack only needs to confirm for himself that the abuse is really happening, then send the jerk a message. But even though Jack has no intention of killing his client's brother-in-law, this simple, straightforward case turns into sheer, bloody murder.
But surely, his other case will be a harmless piece of cake. Right? The client's wife has been missing for a few days. She's supposed to deliver the keynote address at a conference of conspiracy theorists. She claims to have discovered a common thread that unifies all the different theories, ranging from apocalyptic religious leanings to UFOs, black helicopters, and mind-control experiments. And now she has contacted her husband through the television set, claiming that Repairman Jack is the only one who can find her. What's up with that?
What's up is another encounter with beings from another reality. An evil mastermind who plans to use the energy of a hotel full of "sensitives" (namely, the conspiracy theorists) to open up a portal to the Otherness. A shape-changing capuchin monkey who speaks fluent English. A pair of identical, inhumanly strong "men in black" who definitely aren't good guys, even though they're working against the bad guy. An outbreak of mutant babies, an epidemic of epic nightmares, a gruesome murder, and a machine that materializes out of thin air, needing only to be assembled in order to accomplish the will of a nameless force that does not mean well toward mankind.
In case you had any doubt (and I, for one, did), the Repairman Jack series really is about a regular guy who collects antiques, hides from officialdom, and earns a living fixing problems that call for such tools as a hollow-tipped bullets and a sockful of buckshot. But his real job, whether he realizes it or not, is saving the world from eldritch horrors that serve forgotten gods, and from machines that shoot beams of pure evil. He does it in an atmosphere that goes from zero to creepy in six pages, and that sustains a crescendo of agonizing tension until almost the last page.
Needed comic relief comes in the form of Jack's friend Abe, whose Yiddish-inflected wisdom is at odds with his slovenly ways and his hilarious inability to remember the acronym SESOUP. Nevertheless, it is a conversation between Jack and Abe that triggered the only twinge of disappointment I found in this book. Although this series comes recommended by Dean Koontz (among others), there is no confusing the worldview of Jack and Abe with that of Odd Thomas. When these characters, with (I suspect) the author's concurrence, lumps all religions together with conspiracy theories and reduces them to a self-therapeutic instinct to create order out of a meaningless world, their smugly simplistic sermonizing lowers them in my esteem. It sounds more like the mentality of servants of chaos whom Jack battles in this book.
I wonder how much his outlook will grow and mature after this. He has plenty of time to work on it, with another thirteen novels coming after this, plus a collection of short stories and several prequels. The next book in canon order is All the Rage, and in spite of my reservation about Repairman Jack's worldview, I have it on request at the library. Stay tuned!