Sunni's Salon logo
Book review header graphic for Sunni's Salon

Harbingers, by F. Paul Wilson

Critics of Wilson's Repairman Jack (RJ) action/horror series may find elements of his work not to their liking, but one criticism that can't fairly be leveled is that Wilson is formulaic. Even though each book in the RJ series has at least one problem that Jack is hired to fix, Wilson puts some kind of twist into each. Wilson also does an excellent job of keeping disparate threads straight as the story line progresses, rewarding attentive readers with more information on past exploits and teasing them with tantalizing clues as to what's still to come. Harbingers is the newest story in the RJ series, and may be the most nail-biting-inducing one yet.

Harbingers delivers on the caution—or was it a threat?—that there are no more coincidences in Jack's life. If one recalled that from a previous novel, then Jack's encounter with the Yeniçeri during a missing-person fix-it will trigger suspicions. Yet all is not as it appears with them, and Jack is left wondering who, if anyone, he can trust. His doubts encompass the otherworldly realm as well. Players discover they've been played, friends or allies turn out not to be so clearly on Jack's side ... Is nothing as it seems? One finishes Harbingers with the sense that the only possible answer to that question is No. So much for the no coincidences concept leading to boring predictability ...

That lack of predictability is specifically addressed in a conversation with Jack, by the obligatory woman with a dog:

[A]s I told you: Nothing is carved in stone. The human variable—willingly or unwillingly, whether through frailty or fervor, torpor or tenacity, cowardice or courage—has the capacity to affect outcomes in the most unpredictable ways.
It is precisely that human variable that Wilson uses to such great effect throughout the RJ series. With only one exception that I can recall, Jack has stayed in the supernatural game between The Adversary and The Ally by relying on human brains and physical abilities—largely his own, but often with help from others, most notably his friend Abe. Nothing extraordinary lifts Jack above his abilities; and this keeps him a believable character, one with whom most readers can empathize. There are hints that he might acquire an otherworldly capability, but Wilson maddeningly provides no clues as to the likelihood of it happening, nor how it might change Jack in ways beyond the gift itself.

Harbingers offers plenty of action, and fills in lots of back story, both for Jack and the reader. One sequence is as bloody as it is amusing, as Jack plays cat with a few human mice. It's suffused with emotion, too, as Jack deals with the changes brought by his impending shift to being a legal entity as well as a father—not to mention the serious threat of losing those he loves most. Perhaps because of some things I've been thinking about lately, Harbingers seemed especially rich in metaphor and irony. Is that human variable referred to in the quote above free will; and irrespective of that, is it sufficient to overcome The Adversary—or our own seemingly insurmountable challenges? The differing contexts in which The Ally and The Adversary see our world, and how much they influence each other's actions—how often does that dynamic color our own choices? How many times do we fail to recognize the colored sea glass in our own lives? How often do we lose sight of the fact that value judgments like good and evil are not absolute, but rather are specific to individuals (and often, groups qua a collection of individuals) and events?

F. Paul Wilson continues to suffuse the Repairman Jack storyline with action and emotion that keep many a fan reading way past bedtime, or when they should be working. It's even more telling that many people who've read Nightworld (the original version; a rewritten Nightworld that fits into the RJ series is forthcoming) can't stay away from the series, despite knowing its conclusion. While some may think that Wilson has steered away from strong pro-freedom content in recent volumes, Jack's individualism shines as brightly as ever; and thoughtful readers will likely find their own freedom-relevant metaphors to add to my short list above. Repairman Jack continues to be the go-to guy for readers who've looked to his tenacity and creativity for inspiration.

Sunni graphic


More by F Paul Wilson: The LaNague Chronicles; The Keep; Sims; The Barrens and Others; The Fifth Harmonic; Soft and Others; Black Wind; The Long Way Home; The Repairman Jack books in order: The Tomb; Legacies; Conspiracies; All the Rage; Hosts; The Haunted Air; Gateways; Crisscross; and Infernal; and converse with Paul at the Repairman Jack message board or keep up with the news in Wilsonworld at his quasi-blog news page.