Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive

The Haunted Air

F. Paul Wilson

Tor /Tom Doherty Associates

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-312-87868-0

Publication Date: 10-24-2002

415 Pages; $24.95

Date Reviewed: 11-18-02  

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002



Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction

08-26-02, 12-06-02, 01-07-03

Serial fiction involves answering a lot of demands that are not present in standalone novels, as well as everything that standalone novels require. The hardest trick to manage is to keep an appealing character appealing without letting them get stale. If a writer puts a character through changes, there's a possibility that those changes will eliminate the very virtues that drew readers to the character in the first place. In the case of Repairman Jack, the very nature of the main character argues against the possibility of change. The appeal of the novels is that of the undocumented outsider. Once Jack gets identified, he's no longer without identity. It's a difficult paradox to work around, but F. Paul Wilson has been focusing on this character through four novels of late with enjoyable results. In 'The Haunted Air', change shows its ugly face in Jack's world. It's an appearance that readers will find gripping, entertaining and very rewarding.

Wilson does quite a bit right in this novel. Serial fiction depends not only on good recurring characters, but also on strong new characters. Lyle and Charlie Kenton, African-American fake mediums who find that they've bought a real haunted house are amongst the most enjoyable creations I've had the pleasure to recently read. Wilson gets their language just right and most importantly plunges the reader into the world of spiritual fakery with a flair for walking both sides of the line. On one hand, he applies the remorselessly rational debunking techniques of James Randi, and fills the novel with fascinating details about how psychic scams are pulled off with a combination of high technology and low cunning. The details are hilarious and fascinating.

But on the other hand, this is a Repairman Jack novel by F. Paul Wilson, and though Jack gets hired to investigate psychic scammers, the reader knows full well -- as does Jack -- that there are deadly supernatural forces in play. Jack has been told he's a lynchpin in many plans of a Lovecraftian scale, and the forces in his life have no regard for those he knows and loves. To know Jack is to be in danger of coming to their attention. The loves of Jack's life, Gia, and her daughter Vicki are ever a target. But 'The Haunted Air' ups the ante by forcing Jack to acknowledge what they mean to him. In doing so, Wilson offers up a delectable dilemma in this novel for Jack -- change.

'The Haunted Air' does a fantastic job of improving the already enjoyable Repairman Jack formula. Wilson does this by exceeding the readers' expectations at just about every stage of the game. He offers up the usual set of assorted problems, but ties them together with breathtaking skill. The Kenton brothers stand out, and are really enjoyable to read about. Their relationship is fully detailed, their expertise is clearly examined and most importantly, they go through a series of changes in the course of the novel that is eminently satisfying.

In center stage, Jack himself is forced by his feelings for Gia and Vicki to examine his own lifestyle. The romantic angle is handled very adroitly, with a touch that will please both male and female readers. In the final analysis, Wilson succeeds by taking his characters and their situations very seriously, but does so with a light touch. Funny, fast paced, filled with genuine feelings of love and terror, 'The Haunted Air' sets a new standard for Repairman Jack that will have readers looking forward to the next installment before they've even finished reading this one.