Monday, March 10, 2008

Repairman Jack

I've recently discovered a sci-fi author I really like by the name of F. Paul Wilson. While I'm obviously a little late in finding him (he's been around for a while with a few bestsellers to his name as well as one movie he wasn't pleased with at all) I'm pleased to see this series is thriving. I sometimes don't discover authors until the books are long dead.

The Repairman Jack sci-fi series is about a man who fixes things--and I don't mean hot water heaters. I mean, for a price, and sometimes because somebody has to, he fixes people's problems. These problems amount to blackmailers, drug lords, mobsters, swamp things, and other annoyances. Poor Jack can't even go on vacation without having to face down evil villains from a hidden enemy known as the "Otherness" (a consistent thrum in the background of all his books that I suspect may culminate in a showdown some day). But he also has hidden allies who look out for him as well and they come from unexpected quadrants (like old ladies!).

What I like about these books is that the supernatural is not the most powerful element of the plot. In fact, in the first one I read (which was out of order because my local library only stocked the one) it didn't surface until about halfway through. By then I was hooked and would have followed Jack anywhere. I also like the fact that he has a stable relationship with a woman and a child. The two people he would die for a thousand times over. This completely removes him from the almost "Clive Cussler" ish genre in which the "hero" pauses in a broom closet to have sex with the newest flame while bad guys are hunting for him with UZIs and grenades. In Clive's books, women are disposable sidekicks who simply provide scenery and momentary distraction. Not only is the writing better, but the character is someone I'd like to live next door to. (My husband, on the other hand, is a huge fan of Cussler and would really like to live next door to Dirk Pitt. Actually, he'd like to be Dirk Pitt, but he'd settle for just getting to drive one of his cars).

As a less experienced writer, I'm most fascinated by the way the author switches POVs from chapter to chapter without hesitation, sometimes introducing new ones in the middle of the book (these characters sometimes don't stick around for very long--if you know what I mean). Why do I find this fascinating? We're taught as writers that this is a big no-no. We're never supposed to introduce new povs in mid-book and certainly not if their stay is going to be short; we're told it startles the reader and causes them to lose confidence in world we've created. F. Paul Wilson is does this masterfully. His switches serve to strengthen, enrich and drive the plot forward. I think I'm going to spend a little less time worrying about the "rules" from here on out as long as the switches contribute to the plot.

Apart from the analysis--Repairman Jack novels are great entertainment, intelligently written, often humorous, peopled with memorable characters, supernatural battles, shootouts, car chases, and tender introspective moments.


Julie Carter said...

I've seen these books, but I've avoided them out of fear of gore. I hate gore. Are they gory?

Mary O. Paddock said...

Not in the same way that Stephen King is, no. There's no nauseating detailed description of murder. However if someone's been dismembered, he states it. I don't have much patience with pages full of gory details either.