F. Paul Wilson, The Haunted Air (Tor, 2002)

As I said in my omnibus look at the previous volumes in this series, 'Sometimes why we review something here at Green Man is as interesting as what we review. I honestly had not planned on reviewing this series, as it seemed on the surface to be just a slight variant on the Equalizer series that was done on network television a decade or so ago: it has an unlicensed "trouble shooter" who helps out relatively decent folks that have run into trouble with folks from the very bad side of existence. I've debated whether these novels, which aren't really fantasy, fit within the Green Man area of interest, but their odd back story -- which is straight out of a horror mythos -- makes them fitting for Green Man.' It's also true, however, that I found Hosts, the last novel, to be the worst of the series to date, so I wasn't exactly planning on putting The Haunted Air high on list of books that should be reviewed soon.

(One of the benefits of editing Green Man is access to more fiction than one can possibly ever read. Be it the latest de Lint, a forthcoming Gaiman, or a novel like this, it's likely it will be sent here for review. The only problem is finding the time to read what I want to read!)

So, what happened, you ask. Errr, Tor, as always, sent us a copy to review. I opened the package, took out The Haunted Air, and sort of read the first few pages. Well, I actually read the first fifty or so pages by the time I stopped. Hot damn -- Wilson's rediscovered horror! And I mean horror! Blood sacrifices! Restless ghosts! Demons from beyond this reality! And a good dollop of violence to boot. All the benchmarks of a classic Repairman Jack novel. What we have here are a pair of con men, posing as mediums for channeling the dead, who get more than they hoped for when they decided to use a truly haunted house as their schtick. The Detroit-raised Kenton brothers are posing as mediums in Astoria, Queens -- hey, it's cheaper than Manhattan! -- making their living by siphoning off runes, errr, customers from other fake psychics (Jack apparently worked with a fake psychic early in his career). It appears that one of the other psychics is trying to drive Charlie and Lyle out of business using any means possible. Please note that I said it appears that this is what is happening... it's only one aspect of what's going on...

Who is he? Again, I refer to my previous review to answer that question: 'Repairman Jack, as our hero is known, is the man to see when you need to make something happen in New York City that you prefer the authorities not be involved in, i.e. something that might not be terribly legal and quite likely will be dangerous. This work has forced Jack underground, outside the system. So, like the protagonist of Roger Zelazny's "Home Is the Hangman" tale, he simply doesn't exist on any databases in his real identity. Oh, he's in the databases under a myriad of personae, but none are really him. His names are indeed legion. He's middle-aged, smart-assed, and possibly just a little too sane for his own good...'

It is only a matter of time before Repairman Jack crosses Charlie and Lyle's path. Jack, Gia and Gia's friend -- who is an artist with a belief in all things weird -- are visiting Menalus Manor, the aforementioned haunted house. As Jack and Gia cross the threshold of the home of the Kentons, a small and highly localized earthquake hits, leaving a wide crack going the length of the cellar. While Repairman Jack is working on what he thinks is an attempt to get the Kentons' competitors to leave the siblings alone, Charlie and Lyle are starting to experience signs that their house is haunted. (Gee, they noticed the blood running down the walls, the ghost walking the hallways, and the television that only plays programs from the 60s...) Jack finds that the haunting is linked to another case he's working, involving a cult snatching a young child every year as a blood sacrifice (This part is not for those of a squeamish nature, as Wilson describes what they do in a way that Clive Barker fans would love. It's certainly, shall we say, a tasty affair). Jack and those he cares about are in danger unless a miracle occurs. But a miracle may not be possible this time...

The Haunted Air is the longest Repairman Jack novel to date, but it reads fast. Wilson isn't as sloppy here as he was in Hosts as regards plotting, so the action and narrative mesh well. This novel also works better than its immediate predecessor in that the elements of horror are sharper, more in focus. Its only weakness is a terribly rushed climax -- a climax that seems designed to avoid answering several questions that Jack should have had to face in this story. Given that another Repairman Jack novel will be out next year, I suppose the author can be forgiven.

[Cat Eldridge]