Some minor SPOILERS...
Repairman Jack, today, is a paranoid urban mercenary who makes his living "fixing" situations. He prefers to live his life off the government grid, and because he's so average looking, he easily blends into the background. But when the fit's about to hit the shan - and the coppers and the government and the usual agencies just won't cut it - then you call on Repairman Jack. For my money, Jack is about the coolest cat there is, the best guy to count on when the devil's at your doorstep. There are eleven full-length eerie thrillers written about him (not counting NIGHT WORLD), as well as a handful of short stories, and if you haven't clued in to him yet, I suggest strongly that you do so. Repairman Jack is righteous!
But this isn't about Jack as he is right now. This is about when he was a kid, just before his path veered into weirdness. JACK: SECRET HISTORIES is author F. Paul Wilson's first foray into Young Adult fiction and also his attempt to flesh out Jack's blank slate of a past. It is the first in a new series. If you're curious about what Jack was like when he was a kid, or if you've wondered what made him the way he is today...well, get ready, F. Paul Wilson is about to start laying it out for you.
So this is back when Jack was 14 years old, a normal kid living in tiny, lame-o Johnson, New Jersey. But today is when his life starts to get odd. He and two of his friends, Eddie and Eddie's older and offbeat sister Louise (but call her "Weezy"), are traipsing about the foreboding Jersey Pine Barrens, mostly because Weezy wants to show them a stretch of burial mounds. Caught in a downpour, they end up unearthing a black cube carved with mysterious designs. And a corpse.
The kids actually think it's all pretty neat. But that changes. The corpse, it turns out, was done in thru a hideous ritual two years ago. Jack begins to get nervous when three deaths soon follow the discovery of the body. Then the nagging questions crop up. Why is it that only Jack seems to be able to open the box? And what has that secretive Lodge got to do with everything? What was that fleeting shape they glimpsed in the woods? Of course it can't be the mythical Jersey Devil, could it? Jack has been gently scoffing at Weezy's fervent assertions that the world hides a secret history, and that the enigmatic cube is linked to it. But now...
Although F. Paul Wilson tones it down to fit his teen audience, JACK: SECRET HISTORIES still comes with thrills and intensity. As usual Wilson sets a brisk pace. In no time at all I was caught up in young Jack's exploits. And, yes, it seems like Jack gets to do his very first fixes in this book. Note that while Jack serves up several dishes of comeuppance to the bad guys, his inspired retaliations against his bullying older brother are almost as riveting. Or as Weezy says to Jack, after Jack had just orchestrated a clever getaway from their mysterious pursuers: "You're scary, you know that? What kind of mind thinks up something like that?"
F. Paul Wilson re-introduces Jack's sister Kate, brother Tom, and his dad. We meet for the first time Jack's mother and Eddy and Weezy (whom Jack is half-crushing on). There's also Jack's alcoholic friend, Steve, who I thought was a boring character, even if his story arc does figure into how Jack stumps a murderer. It's intriguing (and a bit worrying), trying to anticipate how these childhood friends will impact Jack's future; we do know that, so far, they haven't been in any of the Repairman Jack novels.
I hesitate to label SECRET HISTORIES a spooky read. There are supernatural/sci-fi elements here, but nothing that frightening or chilling. Longtime readers are all too aware of Jack's eventual destiny as the world's champion against a malevolent cosmic entity, and that, in the Repairman Jack series, F. Paul Wilson is drawing closer and closer to that confrontation. It seems that the Ally and the Adversary have always touched Jack's life. Even in this book, their presence is felt, if at a more remote distance. There's even an old lady and a dog (a constant thorny theme in Jack's life).
The central story itself is fine and engrossing enough, but I really got into the minutiae of Jack's childhood. No surprise that he was always overfond of pulp adventures (the Shadow, the Spider, etc.). But I got a kick out of reading about his job at the Used Goods store, where he finds a certain book which would serve him well in his future career as vigilante for hire. In other books I've read of Kate and Tom and Jack's dad interacting with the adult Jack, so it's interesting to note how different and how similar the relationships are when Jack was so much younger. Jack learns some life lessons here, which no doubt had a hand in shaping the man he'll become. Even in this book, one can track Jack's evolution from innocent, regular teen into someone who begins to sense that there are things out there beyond the norm, that there really might be a secret history to the world. Young Jack wouldn't mind snooping around.