For Repairman Jack, it all started with a single job. A one-armed diplomat with the Indian Embassy, Kusum Bahkti, hired Jack to recover a necklace stolen from his grandmother. She had gotten out of a cab in the wrong part of New York City and been beaten and robbed. The necklace itself was worthless to the thief, forged of iron and set with two non-precious stones, but of immeasurable sentimental value to the grandmother. She was dying, and Kusum was absolutely insistent that it be returned to her before she passed. So Jack took the job, kaving no idea where it would lead him.
Until this point, Jack's life had been almost perfect. He didn't officially exist; he had no social security number, didn't pay taxes, and worked on a strictly cash and carry basis. His work consisted of "fix-it" jobs, as a sort of court of last resort for people who have been failed by the system in one way or another. The only thing that wasn't working out was that toe woman he loved, Gia DiLauro, had walked out on him when she discovered the cache of weapons and false ids in his apartment and decided the funny, attractive, and somewhat quirky man she had been seeing was really nothing more (in her mind) than a common thug.
But when Gia's daughter Vicky's, great aunt goes missing in what seems like a classic locked room mystery, Jack's the only one she can turn to. Jack agrees to look into the matter, hoping against hope that he can find the missing lady and maybe even bring Gia back to him. Little does he know that this job also involves Kusum Bahkti, and a 125-year-old curse on the Westphalen line. Soon he is the only one who could possibly protect young Vicky, the last of the Westphalens, from unimaginable horror.
F. Paul Wilson's The Tomb was written as the second book of his Adversary Cycle. When he published it in 1984, Wilson had little idea of the die-hard Repairman Jack fans he would create, and who would spend the next decade and a half demanding more books about the fascinating character. So popular is Jack that Beacon Films has bought the movie rights to The Tomb, and plan to release the film version under the title Repairman Jack. Their intent is to set him up as a new franchise character. The script is ready, and the film is expected to hit theaters in the summer of 2004.
Though it has all the classic elements of a straightforward adventure thriller, seamlessly combining elements both of the hard-boiled American detective and of supernatural horror that harkens back to the likes of Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft, The Tomb is also very character-driven. Woven into the story is Jack's anquish at his unwilling estrangement from Gia and Vicky, who he loves with all his heart. Gia's uninformed appraisal of him as a violent thug cuts him deeply, and makes him doubt his self-worth, but he is still able to draw comfort from those few who know why he has turned his back on the system when they remind him though he is violent, he is also honorable, and he is often the last resort for justice when the system fails. He often reminds me of Robert B. Parker's Spenser, normally so tough and confident, yet still human enough to want Gia to understand and accept him, even if it costs him a measure of his autonomy.
All in all, The Tomb is one of F. Paul Wilson's best novels, and easily a perfect introduction to his works. Its transitions from action to exposition and back to action are smooth and never jarring, rarely leaving the reader a point to say "I'll just take a break here and come back to finish the book later." It almost begs to be read in a single sitting.
On an interesting side note, a new edition of The Tomb was released in 1998. In it, Wilson addressed the obvious timeline problems he had created when he brought back in the new novels. The Tomb was originally set in the 1980s, but the sequels were obviously set in the late 1990s and early 2000s, although they're only supposed to take place a few months after The Tomb. Wilson fixed this by "cheating" (his own word for it) and changing the new edition:
You see, I never planned to bring Jack back. But when I did, I realized I?d either have to set his new stories in the eighties, or go back and change THE TOMB. I chose the latter and removed all references that would moor THE TOMB in a specific era. The 1998 edition is now what we authors like to call "the preferred text."
- F. Paul Wilson, The Official Repairman Jack Web Site
Wilson, F. Paul. The Official Repairman Jack Web Site. <http://www.repairmanjack.com> (February 28, 2003)
----. The Tomb. Whispers Press. 1984.