Volume 28, Number 2-3, Winter, Spring, 2010

Jack: Secret Histories

By F. Paul Wilson

Tor, June 2008
Reviewed by Anders Monsen

I hesitated buying F. Paul Wilson’s young adult Repairman Jack novel for over a year. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge RJ fan, having faithfully shelled out far more than the mass market hardcover price and buying the limited edition books from Gauntlet Press so I can read them the moment they are available. Call me “old school,” but I felt a certain snarky attitude toward the idea of a young Repairman Jack.

The story in my eyes began with The Tomb (aka Rakoshi), first published in 1984. I cheered when Wilson resumed the story many years later starting with Legacies, and now as we approach the end of the RJ saga, I find myself reluctant to see Jack in any other light than post-Rakoshi. Sure, a couple of references to his childhood had cropped up, but a trilogy about Jack entering high school seemed no fun at all. Not that I dislike YA books; I enjoyed all the Harry Potter novels. However, books like the Potter series begin with the characters as kids. To go back after over a dozen adult novels and retroactively create a pre-history seems a little too convenient. Then again, Wilson heavily revised the two book-end novels in the series (The Tomb and Nightworld), recasting Jack’s adult life nearly twenty years ahead of where it originally started. There’s already some precedent for adjusting facts to fit a greater story. While the RJ YA novels might not contain as many fixes, they appear geared to exploring more about the forces behind the secret history in Wilson’s fictional world. When I finally bought and read Secret Histories one year after it was published, I found that I liked it much more than I expected.

The book opens with a trio of teenagers biking through the Jersey Pine Barrens one muggy July afternoon. Jack and two friends, Eddie and Louise “Weezy” Connell are on a mission led by Weezy—locating and destroying illegal traps placed by hunters (an allusion to the short story, “Pelts”). It is the summer before Jack goes to high school, placing him at 14 and a half years old. He is a smart, athletic kid willing to follow his friend Weezy into the Barrens. Not yet the ruthless yet ethical individualist from the regular RJ books, Jack only has the beginnings of a sense of justice. For the most part his interests lie in monster movies, Weird Tales type magazines, and Americana from a bygone age. After destroying the traps the kids examine a strangely barren hill. By accident they discover an artifact that only Jack is able to open, and then on further digging they find an old corpse.

The cops are brought in to investigate, but the discovery unleashes unexpected lethal events in town, as members of the secretive Septimus Lodge, a group which gains more prominence later in Jack’s life. There are many such references that readers of the regular series will recognize, such as Walter from “Dat Tay Vao” and The Touch, currently the town drunk always looking for “the one” to which to pass on his gift, and mysterious Mrs. Clevenger, who calls herself their mother.

But the central mystery revolves around the mysterious cube that Jack and his friends discovered, as well as the murders of several Lodge members. Young Jack, not even in high school, begins to put together some minor fixes, and finds them intoxicating. Yet he is also restricted in what he can accomplish as a kid in a world ruled by grown-ups, parents included. Jack’s lack of knowledge about his father’s years in the war drive him to snoop. He discovers a locked box that he tries to pick to no avail. The locked box appears to be the same that Jack’s father had with him in Gateways, one that Jack was able to pick easily then. This indicates just how much Jack has learned in the almost 20 years since his youthful indiscretion.

The novel ends with almost more questions than answers, but this is the first of a three-book series about Jack’s early teen years. At times it is refreshing to see the pre-lethal Jack. His talent for fixes is raw and exciting, and although he has seen death the darkness that will invade and consume his life is still decades away. The sequel was published on February 1st 2010, and you can bet I’ll read the new book a lot quicker than I did this one.

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