Saturday, May 14, 2005

Definitely Not Repairing Toasters.

I am not a big fan of series fiction. I have been burned too many times with "trilogies" that turned into "on-going series" that just won't end -- even after it has become obvious the author is milking the idea, and has nothing new to offer. I like to have a clear idea of how much time I am investing when I start a series.

But I am a huge fan of F. Paul Wilson's Repairman Jack books. One of the best things about the series is that Wilson doesn't insult his reader. For starters, each books has its very own title, like The Tomb, or Conspiracies, or All The Rage. They aren't Repairman Jack and the Dark Warehouse of Evil. In fact, and I don't know if this was Wilson's decision or his publisher but in any event, the tag line on the covers 'A Repairman Jack Story' is subtle and unobtrusive.

So why am I so interested in novels about a repairman? Jack isn't a Maytag repairman, although for a long time his father thought his brilliant son was underemployed in the fixing of household appliances. No, it turns out that Jack fixes situations. It's an unorthodox profession. He got started in high school. A neighbor was being harassed by teenagers who would drive all over the front lawn at night, tearing up turf and ripping out landscaped flower beds. Jack had an idea and offered his solution to the neighbor -- for a price. The neighbor, surprisingly, agreed, and the nest time the teens tried something, it was their cars that needed the expensive repair work, not the lawn. After a family tragedy lead Jack to fix a situation of his own, Jack realized his chosen profession put him outside the law.

Jack moved from his boyhood home in New Jersey to New York City, where he blended into the background, networked with some other underground types on the fringes of society. Jack made his anonymity an obesession, and has managed to completely disappear from official records. Like a more realistic Batman, Jack rights wrongs, fixes problems, and looks out for the little guy -- for a price. You have to pay Jack for his work in cash -- part of it up front.

You have to admit, that's a great, original set-up for an action-adventure hero.

But it gets better.

Jack's family doesn't quite want to let go of their wayward member. His siblings are respected professionals, doctors and judges. Precisely the opposite of the technically outlaw Jack. His father keeps calling him from retirement if Florida. In every book, his family draws Jack closer and closer back to them, despite his misgivings. It's a poignant angle on the story, and keeps the action grounded in reality even when it gets very weird.

And weird it gets. Jack manages to find himself, quite by accident, involved in a cosmic struggle between opposing forces of chaos and order. Neither side is especially interested in humanity, but order sees some potential usefulness in humanity as an ally in the struggle on earth. And order settles on Jack as it's champion. So he's a guy who is immersed in the gritty reality of New York's underworld, armed with a Glock and a Semmerling .45 who is suddenly confronted by knowledge that Things really do go bump in the night. How does he deal with that?

Well, in a word, violently. I recommend these books to anyone who thinks modern horror fiction is a wasted genre filled with horny vampires. Or that action-adventure stories all have to be about ex-Navy SEALs pushed too far. Or that family drama has to be super-sappy.

Any character with Stephen King as the president of the fan club, or that can get Andrew Vachss to call him "righteous" is worth a look. Some of the best weird fiction currently being written. And I don't even mind that I have no idea how many books are going to be written. I'm eager for them all.

No comments: