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Book Review

THE HAUNTED AIR: A REPAIRMAN JACK NOVEL
By F. Paul Wilson
Forge/ $24.95/ 416 pages
ISBN: 0312878680

In this sixth of the series, Repairman Jack and his girlfriend Gia meet up with Lyle and Charlie Kenton, a pair of brothers running a successful psychic flim-flam operation out of a strange old house in Queens. The Kentons are so successful that other local clairvoyants are trying to terrorize them out of town. Despite their dishonesty, the brothers are good dudes and Jack, using tricks of their own trade, does "repair work" on the spiteful pseudo-spiritualists

But nasty humans aren't the Kentons' only problem. A seemingly bottomless crack in their basement floor appears and decreasing property value is the least of their worries. The ghost of a little girl shows up and it become obvious she needs some repair work herself.

Meanwhile Jack is hired to watch an odd character, Eli Bellitto, who evidently has a penchant for committing crimes during a certain phase of the moon. When Jack catches Bellitto and his henchman trying to kidnap a kid, he figures them for pedophiles and dispatches them faster than you can say "Andrew Vachss."

Book Cover Complicating Jack's entire existence as an anonymous non-member of society, is Gia's pregnancy. Impending fatherhood also adds another unpredictable factor to Jack's role in the Wilsonian cosmology. In this universe Jack keeps having confrontations with weirdness related to forces that will end the world as we know it (see Wilson's 1992 NIGHTWORLD) and result in the "Grand Unification" of most of the author's work. These forces -- dubbed the Otherness and the anti-Otherness by Jack -- are just as morally ambiguous and disinterested in humanity-as-a-whole as Jack is. But Jack is not ambiguous about the individuals he cares for. Fathering a child may lead to some interesting convolutions in the future.

Wilson is a master at tying plotlines together while producing jaunty, page-turning prose. THE HAUNTED AIR is so enjoyable that most readers will overlook its weakness in characterization, especially if already acquainted with Jack, Gia, and her daughter Vicky. The same is fairly true of the character of Abe, Jack's oldest and dearest friend who own a sports shop that's a front for any kind of weaponry short of that intended for mass destruction (and maybe that, as well). Although it's not offensive enough to call in the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, Abe _is_ stereotypically Jewish. In the case of the black Kenton brothers, however, Charlie's (and occasionally Lyle's) strained and inaccurate pseudo-street-lingo nearly destroys what are otherwise the best characterizations in the book.

But, most importantly, THE HAUNTED AIR is a great read. In any of the books, the enigmatic Jack shows cultural icon potential (just get that movie out!), but this one -- combining the thrills of the game with the chills of the spooky -- is one of the best yet. -- Paula Guran (Original to this site, January 2003)

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Copyright © 2003 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.