Hosts by F. Paul Wilson
Forge Books, 384 pages, November 2001
I hadn't read anything by Wilson before. Now I'm kind of sorry. Hosts kept me interested and engaged right through to the end. Repairman Jack, as the hero is known, is the man to see when you need to make something happen in New York City. Something that might not be legal and might be dangerous. His work has forced Jack underground, outside the system - any system. He's rather like a superhero, requiring a secret identity and so on. All this has estranged him from his family.
Jack's sister, Kate, hasn't seen her brother in fifteen years. She's married with two kids, but she's outside her system, now, too - she's got a girlfriend and it's serious. What's even more serious is that her lover, Jeanette, has a brain tumor. After Jeanette is treated with an experimental therapy involving a virus, her personality changes radically. The virus has mutated, putting her into contact with a growing group mind.
Kate can only conclude that Jeanette seems to be influenced by a cult. She doesn't know what to do. A mysterious Russian woman gives Kate a card for someone called Repairman Jack, who may be able to help her. Kate has no idea that Repairman Jack is her brother.
Jack, meanwhile, is on a subway car minding his own business when an armed crazy whips out a gun and starts shooting. Jack has no choice but to take the guy out, which he does, saving the lives of all the people in the car.
One of those people is Sandy Palmer, an ambitious young reporter for a struggling weekly tabloid. Sandy files a story about the subway hero who walked away from his well deserved moment of fame for saving so many people.
All Jack is concerned about is being seen by someone - anyone, who might be able to ID him. He has powerful and dedicated enemies. And he's right, two of these guys happen to see the story. There is no photo, but the report mentions an unsual small gun that the Savior, as Jack has come to be tagged, used to kill the madman.
Wilson juggles his plot elements with skill. He writes clearly and well. Things keep happening. I never knew where Wilson was taking me unless he wanted me to, and that's fun. I felt I was in the hands of an experienced storyteller.
More interesting than the book's entertainment value, perhaps, is the social mileau in which Wilson embeds his story. It's a contemporary New York (and New Jersey) setting that Wilson paints. I been to some of dese places, and Wilson does a good job of evoking them. Needless to say, this added to my enjoyment of the book. Despite that, I can't imagine anyone coming away from this zippy little thriller bored. The sf element of the group mind is handled well - those people are scary, no kidding.
A personal note: A brief scene in the book is set in the Chelsea Hotel. A week or two before I read Hosts, I stayed in the Chelsea. In fact, my wife and I spent our first night there in the very room in which Sir Arthur Clarke wrote2001. We switched to a nicer one for the second night. No offense, Sir Arthur. It's just that our daughter was with us, too, andů.
Well, I seem to have wandered from the subject, which would be F. Paul Wilson's novel Hosts. I liked the book. I would suggest you might like it, too. Other Repairman Jack adventures supposedly involve the supernatural. I got no problem with that and will be happy to read 'em when they cross my path.
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