Author: F. Paul Wilson
The young adult trilogy of Repairman Jack books kicks off with Secret Histories, also by F. Paul Wilson. Jack, last name withheld, is a teenage boy who rides around the town of Johnson, New Jersey (named as such because President Andrew Johnson stayed the night there once) with his two best friends Weezy and Eddie. Weezy is a conspiracy theorist who believe there is a secret history of the world that is being covered up, while Jack just likes hanging out with Weezy. While on one of their adventures, the three kids discover a dead body that has been mutilated and a strange cube that contains an even stranger object inside. After discovering it Jack begins to make connections about his local town and mystery of the death and object.
As a prequel series to the Repairman Jack series, Wilson has some interesting opportunities and challenges to work with. In the adult series, we never really discover how Jack becomes such a formidable individual. How does he become a master of being incognito, using weapons, defending himself and solving mysteries? When the first book, The Tomb (1984) begins, Jack is already adept at performing “Fix-its” for people, is living under the radar, and has all the same skills he is using by the end of the series. He also has a supporting cast of characters that he already has history with (Gia his girlfriend, Abe the arm’s dealer, and Julio the barkeep being the primary three). Being published in 2008, there were also 11 or 12 books worth of books exploring Jack’s mindset, and we know the fates of his mother, father, brother and sister already, but not much about their youths.
The largest challenge Wilson faces though is that his series is a supernatural one, and Jack enters The Tomb as a skeptic. As readers, we’ve either had 24 years or 11 novels of work to see Jack evolve from a skeptic to a believer regarding things like the Adversary, the Otherness, the Ally, and Mother. It doesn’t make any sense for him to experience supernatural events in the prequel novels, or else he would not be a skeptic when The Tomb begins. Wilson obviously wants to tie events from Jack’s youth to his adventures in the present, so he must walk a tightrope of having the absurd occur but have Jack not believe or remember what he experiences when he is older.
For the most part, he succeeds on both levels in this book. Jack begins to collect skills (lock picking, fix-its) and a moral compass, while not being totally aware of the supernatural events happening around him. The closest he gets to being a believer is seeing a shadowy movement at night time and an apparent government cover up, however both are certainly events that could be explained away by an adult remembering the fancies of childhood later on. Wilson also does a nice job of developing Jack’s dad and brother Tom as characters, foreshadowing the sorts of men they will be when Jack is an adult. Unfortunately his mother and sister Kate are both as one dimensional here as they are (based on what we know of them) in the adult books.
I imagine it will be more difficult to read the next two books and still believe Jack is a skeptic when he is an adult. On top of that, Wilson has written a second prequel series about Jack’s first years in New York that will likely add to that problem (while probably focusing on this supporting non-family characters in the adult books). As a standalone book this one is very fun however. Jack’s fix involving his friend Steve is as brilliant as anything he comes up with as an adult, and what we know of the mystery is enough to keep the reader anticipating the next adventure.