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(a Repairman Jack novel)

By F. Paul Wilson

Tor Books, 2011 ($25.99)

ISBN-13: 978-0-7653-2283-8
Kindle eBook ($12.99)

Reviewed by Sam Waas

Okay, let's have a show of hands. Who's heard of H.P. Lovecraft? (most say "yes"). Now, who's actually read Lovecraft, particularly stories of his Cthulhu Mythos, notably "The Call of Cthulhu"? Some stalwarts in the audience yet respond, all of them flinching a bit, remembering one of the most frightening stories of all supernatural fiction. This is as it should be, for Lovecraft and his willing co-conspirators (he encouraged his writer pals to use the Cthulhu themes) have built a legacy of terror and horror that we are still immersed within, literally part of our Western canon. Stephen King readily borrows from the Mythos, as does admitted Lovecraft fan F. Paul Wilson.

A brief introduction to the central Cthulhu Mythos: Almost from the beginning of the Universe, there has existed a group of immortal, predatory, and evil creatures known as the Great Old Ones, who travel freely throughout space-time and gleefully annihilate weaker cultures, such as our own. The aquatic being Cthulhu is one of the leaders of this pantheon. The Old Ones are not actually supernatural, but they do have powers that seem magical or spiritual, and many cultures here on Earth have worshipped them as demons or devils. In opposition, another immortal and powerful race, the Elder Gods, not really gods, but definitely benevolent, have at times intervened into the affairs of the Old Ones, thwarting their predative acts. A few thousand years ago, fed up with this nastiness, the Elder Gods put most of the Old Ones into an extended sleep, a suspended animation to prevent their further destruction of humanity (being immortal, the Old Ones cannot be killed).

Sleeping yet alive, the Old Ones still influence humanity via surrogates and often recruit disciples, either to finally wake the Old Ones themselves or at least create as much havoc as possible on their behalf. Meanwhile, the Elder Gods have left the building, rumor has it moving to Sirius or Betelgeuse, and now rarely intervene. So we're on our own against the tendrils of the Old Ones and their followers. Events seen as supernatural by the Old Ones are in fact supra-natural, just employing advanced scientific tools. Religion per se isn't a part of the mix.

In his "Repairman Jack" series, F. Paul Wilson has created his own interpretation of the Cthulhu Mythos, and it's a good one. A shadowy, off-the-books "fix-it man" working mostly out of New York City, Jack takes on difficult cases in which the victims of injustice have little other recourse. The earlier novels were conventional mysteries, tightly paced and entertaining, yet always dealing with human criminals.

Gradually, however, Jack became aware of an external evil influence, known only as the Otherness, an arcane presence having what seems to be supernatural powers that imbue its followers with strength. Always a loner, Jack now begins to team up with other opponents of the Otherness, learning that a mostly benevolent, albeit detached entity known as the Ally would sometimes provide help for humans under attack by the Otherness. Jack is drawn deeper into the immortal struggle for human spirits, upon which the Otherness feeds.

THE DARK AT THE END is the penultimate Repairman Jack novel, ably summing up the gist of what's gone before and laying groundwork for the final book. Mystery fans who are open to an occasional mystical or science fiction thread will thoroughly enjoy DARK, because the overall story lines and character development do not depend absolutely upon SF or fantasy to survive. Instead, the bulk of the novel is about real people, genuine real-world threats, and consistent modern life choices. The underlying current of an age-old struggle for human spirits is there, of course, but does not force the plot through cheap theatrics such as wand-waving or spell casting. Characters in DARK, good and evil alike, confront each other principally within our conventional world. Readers who aren't particularly fans of SF/fantasy-themed mysteries should still give DARK a chance, as the fantasy elements aren't forced.

Wilson is a superb writer of suspense, and this novel is no exception. We are presented with realistic characters about whom we either care or despise. The plot is complex and gripping and the book is, as reviewers often say, hard to put down.

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