Tag: Secret History

“Secret Histories” by F. Paul Wilson Review

Secret HistoriesSecret Histories

Author:  F. Paul Wilson

Released:  2008

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.

4-star

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“Reborn” by F. Paul Wilson Review

Reborn

Reborn

Author:  F. Paul Wilson

Published:  1990

The Adversary Cycle:  Book Four by Publication, Book Two Chronologically

For those into how books fit into larger overall universes,Reborn is the fourth book in F. Paul Wilson’s the adversary cycle, but the second book chronologically, which means it takes place after The Keep but before the entire Repairman Jack series and somewhere during the Secret History line of books (this takes place in the 1960’s if that helps). Throughout this whole series of books Wilson has done his version of ghost stories, science fiction, and even vampires. Here is Wilson’s Rosemary’s Baby story, so much so that the characters even mention it on a few different occasions.

The story goes that a married couple discover that a wealthy man who has just died may be the secret father of the husband. This revelation leads them to search through his journals for the identity of the man’s mother and any other information they can find to give him answers about his parents. Along the way there are connections to secret World War II science experiments, a possible vigilante with a crow bar, and an order of religious individuals dedicated to stopping the anti-Christ. There is also an appearance from at least one character from the first Adversary Cycle bookThe Keep .

Mentioning Rosemary’s Baby and the anti-Christ crusaders will give you a pretty good idea of how the plot of this book progresses, but it’s impossible to discuss without getting into that facet. I admire Wilson for attempting to tell an interesting story about the return of a formidable villain in his world, but the nature of the plot feels derivative to that iconic work. The greater problem however is that the entire book is populated by people making horrible decisions.

The two main characters are meant to be sympathetic, but both of them willingly turn a blind eye to horrific acts willingly. Similarly, the heroic character provided by Wilson in the form of a Jesuit Priest always remains reactive to the plot (the most heroic thing he does in the entire book is not have sex with a woman who wants him to). The series’ recurring heroic character does nothing in this book to influence the tragic turn of events.

Even within the logic of the book, it’s difficult to figure out what you (the reader) want to have happen. There is a force that benefits when people suffer or cause emotional harm. Does that mean that the sex between two consenting adults will be good or bad for that force (the book decides that action will aid the evil force). Or if a woman tries to perform an unwanted abortion on a trusting relative (here the book says that will harm the evil force). The result for me was a rather unpleasant reading experience where I knew a bad outcome was going to happen the entire time and every choice along the way is just drawing out the inevitable tragedy.

So far the Adversary Cycle has suffered compared to the Repairman Jack Series as it has lacked the moral center of Jack (a man whose own particular morals are certainly not in line with the general public). I’m still planning on reading the two remaining books before I finish up both series withNightworld but my hopes for finding another great series of books is slowly dwindling.

2-star

“The Keep” by F. Paul Wilson Review

 

The KeepThe Keep

Author:  F. Paul Wilson

Published:  1981

I’ve reached a point in my read through of the Repairman Jack books that the next one I read is the conclusion to the entire series.  I also see that it is the conclusion to something called the Adversary Cycle.  Since it ties into the Repairman Jack books, I’ve decided to go back and read the Adversary Cycle books prior to reading that last installment because why spoil the ending to a whole separate series of books by an author I like that I’d probably end up reading eventually anyways?  Up first in that series is The Keep, the events of which have been obliquely referenced in other Repairman Jack books.

Set during World War II (Pre-American involvement) The Keep is about a structure in the Dinu Pass in Romania that is seemingly abandoned but kept in pristine condition.  The structure becomes relevant when German soldiers take up residence as part of a strategic location in their plan to eventually build a death camp in Romania.  The story is told from five viewpoints:

1)      A German Captain in charge of securing the keep, whose soldiers begin dying violently

2)      A German Nazi S.S. Captain sent to the keep to find out what’s causing the deaths and to stop it

3)      A Jewish man who has studied the keep for years and is brought in by the Nazi Captain to provide answers

4)      The daughter of the Jewish man who is his caretaker and assistant in his studies

5)      A mysterious man who travels to Romania to investigate what’s happening in the keep

Much like with the Richard Sharpe books, I much preferred the section with the non-Nazi Captain to those about the Nazi Captain.  Characters written as evil for evil’s sake in the military tend to be less interesting and more monotonous than competent, more human characters.  One of the best aspects of The Keep is that it provided both aspects in its German soldiers, a deft handling of the political and ethical climate of the era.  The rivalry between the two officers is done very well, and provides much of the early tension before the supernatural elements begin appearing.

This being an F. Paul Wilson book, supernatural elements are a given.  The setting and clues early on point to the culprit being a vampire (Romania, imagery of crosses, fatal wounds to the neck) and with Ghosts and demons having appeared in Repaiman Jack books I didn’t immediately rule that creature of the night out as a suspect.  As more information into the force of evil appears, fans of this series will pick up on additional clues as to who or what is at work.  Certainly anybody who has read the Repairman Jack series will anagram any bad guys name who shows up; if you haven’t read those books then that is not a spoiler.

As a stand alone novel this book works fine, but it is definitely more enjoyable as part of the overall Secret History universe Wilson has established.  Glaeken on his own in this novel is an interesting character, however with his rushed into a few pages of dialogue he reads more like a dream man from a romance novel than the hero of a battle between good and evil.  I prefer having discovered his history as it unfolded over several books in Repairman Jack then how it was quickly disclosed here.

The romance novel analogy is unfortunately not only present in revealing Glaeken’s past, but also in every seen between Magda (the Jewish daughter) and the mystery man.  Wilson struggles with discussing Magda without either bringing up her physical attributes in the eyes of the German soldiers or the stirring pangs in her body for the forbidden touch of this man unlike any she has ever seen before.  I can excuse some of the writing as an attempt at a 1940’s woman who was stifled in her development by being the caretaker for her father, but the vast majority of her characterization was distractingly bad whenever it was the focus.

As the first book in the Adversary Cycle, this did enough to get me interested to read more.  At the end of my copy of the book was a chart outlining the chronological reading order of the rest of the Secret History books, so I’ll probably follow that instead of the Goodreads/Wikipedia recommended order.  There are also several other books listed that go beyond Repairman Jack or the Adversary Cycle, in what I can only assume or Secret History books, so maybe I’ll try those out eventually as well (nothing like being a OCD when it comes to lengthy series).

3-star