In the months since the death of his sister, Kate, Repairman Jack has alternated between periods of nearly uncontrollable rage and deep depression. He blames himself for not being able to protect her from the Otherness-spawned hive mind which had taken over her lover, and threatened to do the same for the rest of the world. Even Jack's girlfriend, Gia DiLauro, has been suggesting he take on a few small "fix it" jobs to get back to his old self, despite the fact she hates what he does for a living.
Things take a turn for the spooky when Jack and Gia visit a psychic along with one of Gia's artist friends. Jack, of course, does not buy into any of the medium's tricks, having worked as an assistant to one of New York's many fake psychics in his youth. But even he is shaken when an Indian woman walking her German Shepherd warns the couple, especially Gia, not to enter the medium's house. And when they do cross the threshold, a very localized earthquake strikes the area.
The reading itself goes smoothly, and when they get home, Jack explains to Gia all of the tricks he caught the psychic Ifasen using. Though she hides it well, Gia's not entirely convinced it is all fake. Her question for Ifasen, "How many children will I have?" was answered with "two." And though she hasn't told Jack yet, she has just found out she's pregnant with her second child. So she contacts Ifasen again to find out more, and in the course of the conversation discovers that he is being harassed by other New York mediums who believe he is stealing their wealthy clients. It seems like a relatively simple and safe job for Repairman Jack, possibly just the thing to pull him out of his funk, so she talks him into taking it on.
And from there everything gets even stranger...
** Some spoilers follow. You have been warned. **
The Haunted Air had the potential to be F. Paul Wilson's greatest Repairman Jack novel yet. The main plot of a fake medium who doesn't believe in any of the spiritual nonsense he sells being plagued by very real ghosts is an excellent choice. Lyle Kenton (aka Ifasen) and his younger brother, Charlie, are a pair of orphans who started with street scams to make ends meet and finally worked their way up to the genteel world of the high-class meduim. Along the way, they spent some time checking out a faith healer, but came away with very different reactions. Lyle saw it as the highly lucrative scam to end all scams and immediately made it his goal to found his own church. Charlie, on the other hand, bought a Bible and soon became a Born Again Christian. This backstore allows Wilson to set up some very realistic tension between the two brothers as they continue to work their psychic business with Lyle as the front man, and Charlie as the engineer running special effects from a hidden control room. Charlie knows that fleecing the clients like this is wrong, but so strong are the ties of blood that he cannot bring himself to walk away from his only living relative.
Added to that is Wilson's signature character development as he continues to explore the relationship between Jack and Gia. They've long wanted to get married, but Jack still doesn't legally or officially exist, and he's concerned that as long as he works as Repairman Jack, any kind of paper trail leading back to Gia and her daughter Vicky could put them in danger. But now, with Gia bearing Jack's child, the timetable has been drastically sped up. They both agree that Vicky and the new baby would need a real father, one who doesn't risk injury or death as part of his chosen profession. But Gia raises a wealth of new concerns, worried that so long as he isn't part of the system, Jack can't take over raising the children if something were to happen to her. Gia's worry and Jack beginning his search for a way to become a legitimate member of society are both seamlessly woven into the story without bogging down the plot.
Unfortunately, it seems like Wilson felt the need to shoehorn the Otherness into what could very easily been a solid stand-alone story. The mysterious foreign woman and her dog are brought back to in a new guise to warn and advise, and the reminders that Jack is destined to be Mankind's only hope in a final showdown with the darkness come across as heavy-handed and perhaps even out of place. If they were removed, turning the haunting of Ifasen's house from a way for the Otherness to lash out at Jack into a straightforward ghost story, I think the story would be nearly perfect.
That being said, I do still highly recommend The Haunted Air to any fans of Repairman Jack or ghost stories in general. New chapters in Jack's own backstory are provided, detailing some of the work he did for false mediums in the early days when he first arrived in New York. His talents weren't always as finely honed as we see them in the Repairman Jack novels, nor did he always have the luxury of picking and choosing the kind of work he was willing to do. He still feels guilty for helping fleece innocent clients looking for some sign from the other side, and looks at helping Ifasen strike back at the harassing psychics as a way to lash out at the kind of people who used to employ him, and possibly at his own younger, more naive self. I'm hoping that, as Wilson runs out of time in the story arc that takes Jack from The Tomb to the conclusion of Nightworld, he'll start writing more prequel material explaining Jack's history in New York.
So grab a copy of The Haunted Air and settle in for a good read. If you kind of gloss over the parts dealing with the Otherness, you're sure to enjoy it.
Wilson, F. Paul. The Haunted Air<./em>. Tom Doherty Associates. 2002.