While F. Paul Wilson may still be best known among horror fans for his unique vampire tale The Keep (1981), his most enduring project has been the Repairman Jack series. Wilson took a long hiatus after introducing the character in The Tomb (1984) before he reprised his Byronic hero in Legacies (1998). He has since written eleven Repairman Jack novels, and he says he will finish the series with the 15th installment in 2011.
Jack: Secret Circles is Wilson’s second young adult novel presenting events that led up to Jack’s career as a fixer. A third is planned.
For the uninitiated, Repairman Jack doesn’t fix appliances, though that is what some who respond to his website hope for. Jack (who uses a variety of last names) fixes the wrongs of society. And his methods rarely fall within the bounds of the law. They may include larceny, murder, extortion, blackmail and other nefarious tricks. But his results are always better than the law could have meted out.
Nor is the Repairman entirely altruistic. He tries to be in it only for the money, but, against his better judgment, he just can’t seem to help becoming involved with his clients. In most of Jack’s cases, a lot of people end up dead, and in interesting ways. Poetic justice is his specialty.
The young adult novels are much tamer than the original books—Jack hasn’t had to kill anyone yet. But they are integral to the story and a must for fans of the series, as well as teens looking for some great adventure and fun. The YA stories take our hero back to a small New Jersey town in the 1980s during Jack’s freshman year in high school.
Jack and his best friend (not yet girlfriend) Weezie spend a lot of their time exploring the Barrens, a million-acre forest near the town. In the first book, Jack: Secret Histories, they discovered a centuries-old artifact and a weirdly mutilated dead body buried in a mound in the woods. It turns out the body was a member of the Septimus Society, a secretive lodge that has been located in the town for longer than anyone can remember. Eventually, more Septimus members die of supposed heart attacks, and the artifact, a six-sided pyramid with cryptic runes engraved on the side, is stolen.
In Jack: Secret Circles Jack and Weezie are convinced that the pyramid has a connection to the Septimus Society and that it is the lodge members who stole it from them. They are determined to get it back.
To complicate matters, little Cody Brockman, Jack’s five-year-old neighbor, has disappeared, and foul play is suspected. And Jack discovers that Mr. Vivino, the father of a close friend who died of cancer, is abusing his wife and daughter. These are two things the young repairman is determined to fix.
And there is Kristin, who seems to have eyes for Jack, and a senior boy who is paying too much attention to Weezie, and teenage hormones are just beginning to run wild. Expect more from those hormones in the third young adult book.
Like the adult Repairman Jack novels, there are just enough weird elements to place Jack: Secret Circles in the realm of dark fantasy. And, like he has in The Keep and other books, Wilson proves, with his underground passages, strange lights and sounds, and other effects, that he is a master Gothic stylist. Sometimes it feels good to take a break from lengthy tomes and enjoy a little nostalgia, and Jack: Secret Circles is a good fix for that, a highly enjoyable quick read. If you are looking for more light reading in a similar vein, try the late Robert B. Parker’s young Spencer novels.
The next adult Repairman Jack episode, Fatal Error, is due out in October.
Mark Graham reviewed books for the Rocky Mountain News from 1977 until the paper closed its doors in February 2009. His “Unreal Worlds” column on science fiction and fantasy appeared regularly in the paper since 1988. He has reviewed well over 1,000 genre books, including quite a few Repairman Jack and other F. Paul Wilson titles. If you see a Rocky Mountain News blurb on a book, it is likely from a review or interview he wrote. Graham also created and taught Unreal Literature, a high school science fiction class, for nearly 30 years in the Jefferson County Colorado public schools.