Kate Iverson has a problem. Her girlfriend Jeanette recently underwent an experimental new treatment for a brain tumor, and, although the treatment appears to have been a resounding success, Jeanette's personality has undergone some radical changes. She's no longer the woman Kate fell in love with. When Kate follows her to a house in the Bronx, it starts to look like Jeanette has fallen victim to some kind of cult and possibly been brainwashed. But just when Kate is falling into despair, not knowing what to do, a strange woman with a Slavic accent hands her a card with a name and phone number and tells her she must call "Jack."
In the mean time, our hero Repairman Jack has run into problems threatening to destroy his lifestyle forever. While riding the subway, he is forced to gun down a violent madman hell-bent on killing everyone he can. Suddenly, he is thrust into the limelight he so despises, dubbed "The Savior" by a subway car full of survivors. Worst of all, one of the witnesses is a hungry young reporter who knows he can make a name for himself in the New York press if he can bring the identity of the Savior into the light. Hunted by both the police (who fortunately have no idea what he looks like) and a reporter who has seen his face, Jack needs to perform his fanciest footwork yet to avoid all of the unwanted attention.
Partly to take his mind of the subway fiasco and to prove to himself that he wouldn't let it disrupt his life or his business, Jack answers a voicemail from Kate and arranges to meet her. To their mutual shock and amazement, Kate turns out to be the older sister Jack hasn't seen in over fifteen years, ever since he dropped out of society following their mother's death. Kate disapproves of the apparently violent and often illegal life her little brother Jackie seems to be leading, but realizes he may well be the only one who can help her get to the bottom of the changes in Jeanette. For Jack's part, one of the rules he tries to live by is to avoid getting emotionally entangled with his jobs. But this is family, and there's no way to dissuade him from helping.
** Some Spoilers Follow **
Throughout the Repairman Jack series, family has always been a driving force in Jack's life. He divorced himself from society and began working outside of the system because the system failed him when his mother was murdered. He left his family with his past behind him when he moved to New York City, but he never stopped feeling guilty for letting them down. He knows his father believes he has failed Jack somehow, but Jack cannot bring himself to tell his father what has really become of him. The constant lying and hiding the truth from him only adds to Jack's guilt over the years.
In Hosts, Wilson draws an interesting parallel between Jack's secrets and those of his estranged sister. Though she married and has children, Kate realized in the last few years that she is gay, and this is the secret reason for her divorce. She is terrified of the reactions her father and brothers might have if they found out, but, like Jack, the lies and the secret life compound her guilt. When she finally does confide in Jack, she finds not only someone who does not judge her for her sexuality, but also a kind of kindred spirit who understands the combination of fear and guilt.
Tied into all of this is Jack's desire for a family of his own, also at odds with his current lifestyle. He wants to marry his girlfriend, Gia DiLauro, and be a father to her daughter, but being Repairman Jack tends to preclude that. He and Gia agree that he cannot keep up his dangerous life forever, and he has been trying more and more to limit himself to jobs where he can work from the background and not put himself in harm's way, but the fact of the matter is that he does not know what else to do with his life. On top of that, a part of him takes quite a bit of pleasure from the jobs, even the dangerous ones.
Though the Repairman Jack series typically shows F. Paul Wilson at the top of his craft as a writer and storyteller, his hints that Jack has a great destiny to fulfill fighting the Otherness are becoming rather heavy-handed. The Otherness was not even introduced (to Jack) until Conspiracies, but in that novel it was pursuing more of a personal vendetta against Jack for having destroyed the rakoshi. In All the Rage, Jack's connection to the Otherness is still the last remaning rakosh. But in Hosts, he is told more than once that he is intended to be the one who can stand aganst the Otherness in the dark times to come. The foreign lady with her dog seems to serve as the cliched Wise Old Woman&tm;, whose sole purpose is to make sure the hero stays on the right path to save the universe.
The ending of the novel, too, strikes me as a heavy-handed way to ensure continuity. Jack does serve a vital role in the ending of the Adversary Cycle, and there is no mention of certain people or events in the last novel of the cycle, Nightworld. Because all of the Repairman Jack novels will take place in the months leading up to Nightworld, Wilson must try to offer plausible reasons why. This leads to the rather abrupt resolution not only of the primary plot of Hosts, involving Kate, but also of the sub-plot where the reporter is hell-bent on making Jack into a celebrity. I was disappointed reading the final pages; I know Wilson can do better than that.
Despite these issues, I still enjoy reading the continuing adventures of Repairman Jack. His character development is extremely well done. Rather than bogging down the story, it feeds and drives it at many turns. Even the greatest of authors can be forgiven a few infractions when they, as Wilson always does, deliver a gripping story that I feel the need to finish in a single sitting.
Wilson, F. Paul. Hosts. Tom Doherty Associates. 2001.