Volume 17, Number 1, Spring, 1999

Legacies By F. Paul Wilson (Forge, 1998, $24.95)

Fifteen years ago in his novel The Tomb F. Paul Wilson gave the world Repairman Jack, perhaps one of the most memorable characters in modern fiction. The years in between witnessed a handful of Repairman Jack stories in various anthologies. F. Paul Wilson's latest novel, Legacies, serves up a main course of Repairman Jack, and satisfies the reader in almost every aspect. In fact, in this reviewer's eyes, it may well be his best novel since Black Wind.

Alicia Clayton, a young doctor running a Center for Children with AIDS, is fighting her legacies. Her father, whom she long since has shut out of her mind and life, inexplicably leaves Alicia his house when he dies in a plane crash. She wants nothing to do with the house, but is less than eager to sell it to her despised half-brother Thomas, who seeks to buy it at any price, despite a noticeable lack of income. To make matters worse, Alicia is up against a vicious gun for hire and former US soldier, Sam Baker, and his money man, Kemel Muhallal, a somewhat out-of-place Saudi Arabian working for a shadowy private group willing to do anything to protect its interests. We learn the motives behind the actions of almost all the characters in tantalizingly slow snippets; still the key to the novel is not the motives, but the characters, and Wilson writes his priorities admirably. Observing all these events, like a lurker on an Internet newsgroup, is Yoshio, the enigmatic Japanese agent of the Kaze Group, a behind-the-scenes business conglomerate (featured more prominently in Wilson's other 1998 novel, his sf collaboration with Matthew Costello, Masque). And then there is Ronald Clayton, Alicia's scientist father, the man whose legacies draw these threads together, the dead hand holding the puppet strings.

No other person feels as tightly pulled by these strings as Alicia, who fled her home at age eighteen and moved as far away as possible, severed all ties with her family, and is driven to near desperate acts to rid herself of her past, such as hiring Repairman Jack. She had reluctantly taken on Jack's services to retrieve a roomfull of Christmas presents for the children at the shelter. That makes Jack just the sort of person who might actually accomplish the impossible, and it's all slightly outside the law, which suits her needs.

Wilson is superbly adept at sustaining characters, delving into their motivations so that the reader almost understands them, yet not giving it all away. Legacies builds suspense artfully on many levels, and although the roots of the hatred Alicia feels for her father may be transparent to some readers, the main mystery is far from easy. Add to the fun the game of figuring out what new trick Jack will pull from his inventive mind to exact justice for his clients or to stay alive when threatened by thugs and you've got a novel that's a joy to read. I'm particularly happy that Jack is not a sappy humanitarian hero who quails at hurting a fellow being, even someone who tries to hurt him. He is the kind of person who will lay his life on the line for loved ones, yet will not lift a finger to help anyone who has hurt those same loved one. At the same time, he is not an unemotional robot. Wilson crosses genres with ease, and there are strong scientific backdrops instead of monsters of prophecy as in The Tomb. While Repairman Jack is the bright nova in this book, the other characters are equally well-rounded, even Sam Baker skating along the thin edge of amoral insanity. Is it coincidence, one wonders, that the most psychotic killers are those trained by the government as soldiers? As J. Neil Schulman writes, there is a difference between justified and unjustified violence. The government does not teach this difference; soldiers hear only that you kill when you are told. Repairman Jack's sense of ethics, however, gives him the ability to distinguish such reasons.

In our statist society, the fictional character of Repairman Jack is the ultimate libertarian wet dream. Jack is the Man with No Name, the avenging angel for hire. The various jobs Jack performs alongside the main task he is given by Alicia illuminate Jack's ethics, as well as his humanity and intelligence. He is a tough guy with a sense of poetic justice, as revealed not only here, in Legacies, but also in the short stories, "A Day in the Life" (Stalkers), "Home Repairs" (Cold Blood), and "The Long Way Home" (Dark at Heart). Some of these are collected in Wilsons latest anthology, The Barrens and Others. In Legacies, F. Paul Wilson sums up everything we've come to expect from Repairman Jack, and I highly recommend this novel.

Reviewed by Anders Monsen

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