A while back I watched the film adaptation of F. Paul Wilson’s novel The Keep, and that lead me to go on to read that book and move on to his Repairman Jack series. However, I had never gotten around to the first book in the Jack series, which was also part of the same series as The Keep – The Tomb – until recently.
It’s very interesting reading this book in the context of having read later Jack books before it, in addition to having read The Keep. The Keep is an work of supernatural horror that is played very straight, which lays the seeds of a larger supernatural conflict going on in the shadows. This book ties into that conflict, but not as directly. Glaeken, the first book’s protagonist, is not appearing in this story, nor is the antagonist of the first book. Instead, the supernatural horror of the first story is hinted at, through a setup that indirectly pays reference to The Keep, with a similar setup.
Additionally, the book has a very different from of protagonist. In The Keep, much of the cast was effectively powerless against the supernatural force that had been released from the titular Keep, until the arrival of Glaeken, the one person who knows what’s going on and how best to fight against it – a combination of Van Helsing and the more action based characters in Dracula. By comparison, Jack is closer to the protagonists of various airplane potboiler thriller novels like Jack Reacher, and he approaches problems in a similar fashion.
To put it another way – Glaeken in the film version of The Keep was played by Scott Glenn, who does a great job at playing a character who not only has a great physical presence, but also comes across that he knows more than what he’s telling at all times, and that he knows some crap – that he knows something about the nature of the universe that other people don’t know, and that he won’t tell people if he thinks they can’t handle it (and he thinks they can’t handle it). If The Tomb had gotten a film adaptation that was semi-contemporaneous with the book’s initial publication, the ideal casting for Repairman Jack would likely be someone like Kurt Russell or Bruce Willis – grounded tough guy actors who are good at playing characters who have seen some shit, and who are also good at selling the stuff that the stuff they’re facing is scary.
You’ll notice that I haven’t talked much about the story. That’s because there isn’t exactly a lot there. The premise is basic – Jack is hired by two different people for two jobs. One is from the stepmother of the woman Jack is in love with (Gia). Gia’s step-aunt is missing, and Jack has been asked to look for her, as the police haven’t had much success. The second is from an Indian diplomat, whose grandmother has been attacked, and her necklace stolen. Those two cases end up becoming intertwined, through a monstrous horror lurking in a ship docked in New York Harbor.
If, after that description, your response is “that sounds like an airport novel that would probably get turned into a movie” – that’s a fair assessment. It’s a suspense thriller with a few moments of dread, but no real sense of terror. The main monsters of the story spend much of the time off camera, and most of the times when they attack or kill people also happens off camera. It makes it hard to truly buy them as a threat when you don’t see them succeed.
That said, Jack is an interesting character, and the fact that I checked out this book from the library instead of having bought a paperback new when it first came out helps some. This is absolutely the quintessential airplane horror-thriller novel. It’s something that will get you through a long flight, but if you accidentally left the book on the plane, you wouldn’t feel bad about it.