F. Paul Wilson 'Gateways' Reviewed by Rick Kleffel

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F. Paul Wilson

Tor / Tom Doherty Associates

US Hardcover Trade First Edition

ISBN 0-765-30690-5

Publication Date: 11-01-2003

367 Pages; $25.95

Date Reviewed: 11-01-04

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2004



Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction

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

Serial heroes usually work in a single setting, whether it's the Washington DC locale of George Pelecanos' Terry Quinn and Derek Strange or the San Francisco cityscape of Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone. Even the supernatural sleuths have their haunts. For F. Paul Wilson's Repairman Jack, it's New York and New Jersey. But serial fiction needs change as much as it needs stability, and one way to include change in a series without fear of changing the things about a series its readers most enjoy is to send the protagonist on a field trip. 'Gateways' finds Repairman Jack repairing something even he thought he could not fix -- his relationship with his father. It's not something he's been inclined to deal with in the past. The last time he got to know a member of his family was when he met up with his sister in the novel 'Hosts'. But when his brother calls to tell him that his father has been in an accident and is in a coma, Jack's forced out of his northeast environs and makes a trip to Florida's Everglade country. And while he leaves his family-to-be and his business behind, as Jack was told in his previous adventures, for him "there are no coincidences".

This is the seventh of Wilson's Repairman Jack novels, and in it Wilson takes a distinctly different tack from the previous installment 'The Haunted Air'. In that novel, Wilson created a gallery of characters specifically for that novel, in the persons of two brothers who hire Jack. This novel is more stripped down. Jack hops on the plane -- after some simple shenanigans to get past the higher levels of security we all have to deal with -- and almost immediately plunges into an investigation of the circumstances of his father's accident. After all, "there are no coincidences."

'Gateways' is set in the eponymous retirement community where Jack's father has taken up residence, which sits on the edge of the Everglades. Wilson creates a freakish community of swamp-dwellers who live near their own gateway, dominated by Semelee, a strong-willed woman who takes a shine to Jack. Anya, the old lady with the Chihuahua who lives next door to Jack's father, is a lot more resilient and knowledgeable than she has any right to be. She's as entertaining for the reader as she is for Jack.

But the crux of the novel is the relationship between Jack and his father, Tom, and Wilson handles this remarkably well. He provides enough tension and conflict between the two to ensure that the novel never veers into the maudlin, as these sorts of re-unions are wont to do. Most importantly, he gives Tom enough depth and surprising strength to enable him to keep up with Jack. Wilson avoids every pitfall of this relationship and character and brings in a remarkably enjoyable performance from both Jack and his father.

The plot is slighter than in the previous novel as well. There is no alternate problem for Jack to deal with; it's the simple and relatively straightforward problem of finding out what happened to his father and why. Where Wilson really shines is in the final forty pages of the novel, where he demonstrates a capacity to write a rip-roaring climactic battle in the Everglades that rivals the best scene-setting action from writers like Dean Koontz. Cinematic in the best sense, this final passage of this novel is one that readers should plan on enjoying in the best possible conditions. Clear out your calendar, send the kids (or the parents) to a movie and don't plan on leaving your chair.

As a series entry, 'Gateways' is gripping and intense, but noticeably less complex than 'The Haunted Air'. Wilson deploys a different set of skills here, demonstrating a range in his writing. Of course, readers will be breathlessly wondering what Repairman Jack will do next. They'll also be wondering what F. Paul Wilson will do next, and that's the kind of serial mystery that keeps readers returning to a series.