Ground Zero: A Repairman Jack Novel by F. Paul Wilson (2009): I’ve somehow avoided reading F. Paul Wilson novels until recently, perhaps because the film version of his novel The Keep was so traumatically bad that I subconsciously avoided Wilson’s longer works. The Repairmen Jack novels tie into Wilson’s Secret History of the World cycle of novels and stories, the major events of which are part of the Adversary Cycle, of which The Keep is one novel. The climax to these series has already been written (Nightworld), but will apparently be rewritten and re-released once the last two Jack novels appear in the near future.
The interlocking cycles cannily play with conspiracy stories, Lovecraftian alien ‘gods’ and lost civilizations. Repairman Jack — Jersey born and bred, Manhattan residing — is a knight errant ‘fixer’ of people’s problems who finds himself drawn increasingly into the secret, universal war between The Ally and the invading Otherness. The Adversary — Rasalom by name — is a millennia-old servant of the Otherness, working tirelessly to bring about the corruption of the Earth, opposed throughout history by various champions.
Ground Zero pulls the events of 9/11 and the Truther movement into the massive, pan-historical conspiracy that underpins the Jack and Adversary stories. For a late novel in a lengthy series, it’s extremely reader-friendly — I was able to jump onboard without much effort, and the suspense and horror of the novel (along with its fascinatingly wonky explanation for 9/11) make we want to read more of Wilson’s novels. Highly recommended.
Scavenger by David Morrell (2007): Morrell’s emotionally wounded hero Balenger, from the earlier thriller Creepers, returns here in a fast-paced, thoughtful novel involving some truly interesting and odd facts about time capsules and video games. One might think that a thriller that uses the history of time capsules as a major plot element would be a tad boring, but Scavenger is anything but. One of Morrell’s greatest strengths as a writer is his ability to make ‘real-world’ information a fascinating part of his thrillers.
Here, the history of time capsules made me want to know more about such ambitious projects as The Crypt of Civilization. Even better, time capsules work really well when tied into the video-game elements of the novel: a criminal mastermind sets several people on the trail of a lost thing known as the Sepulcher of Worldly Desires, a hidden memorial from the end of the 19th century that may explain how the residents of a mining town in the Rockies simply disappeared one winter, leaving no clue as to their whereabouts.
The hunt for a hidden item is a key element in many video games, as are the sort of trials and tests that await the various characters. The mastermind himself also has aspects of the traditional Dungeon Master figure of Dungeons and Dragons. Of course, these plot elements would be irrelevant if Morrell weren’t capable of creating sympathetic, believable characters. He does that, while also supplying a ‘set-piece’ climax that combines horror with suspense. Highly recommended.