Jack's back, and I'm all kinds of happy. For those new to this series, F. Paul Wilson has created one of the most fascinating protagonists in fictiondom. Repairman Jack is a paranoid urban mercenary, his distrust of the government having caused him to live off the grid. No tax records, no social security number, no lawful standing, none of that. When a wrong needs to be righted, you call the police or the fire department or your attorney. But if something really, really effed-up is going down and the devil is grinning at you, that's when you call Repairman Jack. Because he'll fix it, whatever it is. For a sizable fee.
It's not his fault that, more often than not, Jack gets plonked neck-deep in frightening paranormal adventures. But he's pretty good at pushing back at the darkness. Actually, he doesn't push back as much as belligerently shove at the darkness.
SPOILERS now (and also SPOILERS for those who haven't yet read Bloodline: A Repairman Jack Novel (Repairman Jack)):
A month after the events in BLOODLINE, Jack is still reeling from his finding out that his genetic makeup, in part, originates back to the malevolent cosmic entity known as the Otherness. BY THE SWORD begins with a stroll in Central Park and with Jack finally getting a close face-to-face with the old man who had been stalking him in previous novels. The resulting chit-chat enables Jack to learn some invaluable things.
Not too long after, Jack is hired to recover a stolen ruined katana, a gig which seemed doable enough. Naturally, it quickly gets complicated. Several entities are also after this sword, including the Yakuza and a long-thought extinct cult called the Order of the Hidden Face. The fanatical Kickers movement is back (from BLOODLINE), with its leader Hank Thompson also interested in the katana, even as he continues to hunt down the vanished Dawn Pickering, a pregnant 18-year-old girl (also from BLOODLINE). Dawn's unborn child, we learn, will play a key role in determining the fate of the world. As BY THE SWORD unfolds, the search for Dawn gains equal fervency as with the race for the broken-down katana.
It culminates with a bloodbath and Jack desperately attempting to save New York from supernatural darkness. All in a night's work.
A bit of a segue now. Longtime fans of Repairman Jack know that he first appeared in The Tomb (Adversary Cycle/Repairman Jack), a 1984 occult thriller which falls into the six-book Adversary Cycle, which is set in the backdrop of an eons-long war between two cosmic forces, the indifferent Ally and the malignant Otherness. The Adversary Cycle, by the way, then falls into Wilson's even broader, more all-encompassing Secret History of the World saga. F. Paul Wilson had originally intended Jack to be featured only in THE TOMB, and in fact had left him near death at the end of that book. However, Jack proved to be so popular that he was brought back for a crucial role in Nightworld (1992), the culmination of the Adversary Cycle. Yet further clamoring and hankering by the fans finally earned the urban mercenary his own ongoing series, in 1998, with the second Repairman Jack novel Legacies: A Repairman Jack Novel (Repairman Jack).
Here's the thing: all the Repairman Jack novels which follow THE TOMB are recountings of his adventures leading up to the apocalyptic events in NIGHTWORLD. We're up to the twelfth entry now, with BY THE SWORD, and, finally, finally, Jack's backstory (retro-continuity?) has caught up enough, chronologically, that certain early events from NIGHTWORLD are now being incorporated into this newest Repairman Jack novel. Readers of NIGHTWORLD will certainly be familiar with the opening Central Park sequence of BY THE SWORD.
As the author mentions in the foreword, Jack's story has advanced to the point now where the end of the overarcing story is in sight. I'm getting pretty dang psyched, especially since Wilson means to release a heavily tweaked version of NIGHTWORLD! But, now, more than ever, it's become more crucial to have read the prior novels. Wilson has stated that story arcs in one novel will now be bleeding into the next one. Case in point, BY THE SWORD features the Kickers and Dawn Pickering, whose story arcs began in BLOODLINE. There are also concrete tie-ins with Black Wind and LEGACIES, as well as fleeting nods to Jack: Secret Histories (Repairman Jack Novels) and to who knows what else I've missed. What's evident is that Wilson gets a kick in linking his novels.
BY THE SWORD is another fine entry in the series, with the terseness of the chapters lending an immediacy to things. And this novel boasts a pretty high body count, what with fanatical monks and relentless Yakuzas thrown into the mix, not to mention Jack himself. Jack does what he does best, as he in the end manipulates the situation so that all the bad guys get their well-deserved comeuppance. What makes Jack so engaging is that he comes off as such an unassuming, regular guy, given that he's existing outside legal boundaries. Until you cross him, of course, and then, well, he'll stomp on you. I really liked his interactions with the old man, Mr. Veilleur (ring any bells?), who by the way can also handle himself some.
Recurring elements of the Repairman Jack mythos are here: the woman with the dog, the "no more coincidences" theme, and Jack's fierce protectiveness of and love for Gia and Vicky, the street-savvy methods he uses to achieve his fix-its (as juxtaposed with the supernatural backdrop), and his massive distrust of the authorities. All the things that, without which, it simply wouldn't be a Repairman Jack adventure.
There are some flaws. Past Repairman Jack thrillers have had Jack engaged in two simultaneous fix-its, one seemingly innocuous, the other more serious and tinged with the supernatural. Here, Wilson veers away from the pattern as Jack gets involved with only one fix-it, the recovery of the katana. Instead, Wilson fills up the pages with respective chapters concerning Dawn Pickering, the Kicker Evolution, the corporate Japanese/Yakuza, and the crazed Kakureta Kao cult. Sucks to say, but not all these story arcs are that interesting. In fact, it was a struggle not to skim thru the chapters dedicated to Dawn Pickering and the Kickers. The other quibble is my usual one, that Jack's sensational lady love Gia and her daughter Vicky aren't featured more. But Wilson uses even the all-too-brief passages with Gia to set the stage for some disturbing foreshadowing. You see, ever since her near fatal accident, Gia has not been quite the same. Just another thing for Jack to feel guilty about.
A Japanese character in the book dubs him an "urban ronin," which certainly sounds more romantic than "urban mercenary." Whatever the case, Repairman Jack is an unforgettable character, and as his timeline careens ever closer to that of NIGHTWORLD, the anticipation in me begins to build and build. I won't begrudge Stephen King his role of President of the Repairman Jack Fan Club. But, man, can I be in the club? I'll even be the guy who just locks up after meetings.