The Dark at the End: A Repairman Jack Novel
F. Paul Wilson
Hardcover, 336 pages, $25.99
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
“Everything was connected … everything.” So reflects protagonist Repairman Jack in The Dark at the End. And, yes, everything is connected in the universes of The Repairman Jack stories and The Adversary Cycle books. The synchronizing of mythos converges with a literal vengeance in F. Paul Wilson’s crackerjack finale to his beloved hero’s signature series. It’s not the end of Jack, who will continue on in Nightworld, but it is an end of an era cherished by horror fans. Saying adieu is always sad, and The Dark at the End is imbued with despondency and regrets about might-have-beens. At once ruthless and romantic, this culmination of a saga is tense and tender. When the tears inevitably flow, they are the remnants of a scary and sentimental journey.
The nemesis in the narrative is mundanely described in this passage: “A man who was something more than a man, who was known as the One to many and as Rasalom to a few, who had numerous names, the most important known only to him, strode through the airport toward the baggage area.” The menace casually moves amongst the crowds, drawing strength from the frets and anxieties of those around him; he feeds on their internal terrors: “Fear … fear was the gateway to debasement – of others, of the self – and debasement was ambrosia, the pièce de résistance.”
Battling the evil One, whose agenda includes sadistically subjugating mankind, are Jack and his stalwart cohorts. Their histories/backstories are frequently referred to in this novel, and the intertwining of their fates becomes even more intricate during the course of the story. Weezy, Jack’s longtime girl buddy and aide-de-camp, is heart-broken over a brutal death. She insists on seeing the remains, despite his admonishings, and then becomes illogical over what to do with the body. This confounds Jack, who has an amusingly apt reaction to her knee-jerk emotional response: “The most rational woman he’d ever known had surrendered all her critical faculties.”
Other problematic women put the Repairman through difficult paces. He must protect a character called the Lady, a mystical entity who has died twice, but three strikes and she’s out; if she dies yet again, it’s permanent. The ramifications of her possible passing are calamitous – a shift in balance of epic proportions. Jack also has to address how to shelter the mother of a strange and significant infant, as well as conceal the baby’s off putting features, and rhetorically wonders: “Really … how do you hide a woman who has a baby with a tentacle growing out of each armpit?”
Despite such sardonic levity, the overall tone is, as the title indicates, extremely dark. A deep sense of foreboding permeates the tale, and author Wilson does not shy away from bleak scenarios. There are profound losses, and damage that even a savvy and skilled Repairman can’t rectify. Jack’s personality and world view is changing, but he is not immune to fear. In a passage similar to a sequence in the 1963 film The Haunting, Jack gets just as rattled as those around him: “The sounds of the walls, floor, and maybe even the ceiling of the hallway struggling to hold together grew louder and closer. Cracks zigzagged along the stucco walls of the room, the door bulged inward as if some monstrous weight were pressing against its far side. It didn’t look like it could hold.”
A finely crafted eerie atmosphere is, of course, a major plus in a horror novel. But, the horrors that linger in The Dark at the End stem from a very primal source: the alarm and angst inherent in abrupt, violent loss. Fueled by anger, Jack will be back. The series and specific elements that defined it are, however, over. F. Paul Wilson created a marvelous universe populated with splendid characters, and it’s time to reiterate our gratitude for that. It’s also time to grieve over its end – which is, quite dark, indeed.