Friday, July 3, 2015

Horror List Book Review: The Tomb

I'm reading through three lists of best horror with two friends (DeAnna Knippling and M.B. Partlow), posting reviews as we go. (For more information, including a list of the books, see this post.) To see the books I've reviewed so far, you can view the list at the end of this post where I rank them. 

This week I'm reviewing The Tomb, by F. Paul Wilson.

This book is actually classified as supernatural thriller, not horror, and I'd agree with that. There was nothing frightening about this story. However, the pacing was pretty good, the stakes high, especially at the end. I didn't always feel that tension, though, maybe because we knew who the villain was. Also, the main character wasn't too intent on finding the villain at first, so why would the reader feel that urgency? It wasn't until it became personal for him that things picked up.

The main character is Repairman Jack. He "takes care" of problems. He's charged with two jobs at the beginning of the book: 1. Find a missing elderly woman, and 2. Find the missing necklace of a different elderly woman who is dying in the hospital after being attacked and robbed.

His job ultimately leads him to a nightmare creature called a rakosh, an Indian (India) demon. The rakoshi are being used to take revenge, and he must race against time to stop them from killing someone he cares about.

I liked the character of Repairman Jack. He was down to earth, despite being a tough guy who discreetly takes care of problems he's paid to deal with. There was a certain aloofness, but he wasn't an uncaring man. Certainly, he has an interesting life. This is a series, so his adventures go on.

His good friend is Abe, a sports shop owner who also runs guns from the basement. Abe was a Jewish conspiracy theorist, and quite fun. 

His villain was a mixed bag for me. While he did have good and bad aspects, an important element of a good villain, he was a little too crazy-pants for me. At least there was a reason he was seeking his revenge. Even so, his rationale was thin. No matter what misgivings he had, he had to fix his karma by doing this awful thing, which makes no sense to me, but obviously I'm not a karma expert. He acknowledged to himself that these people were innocents, yet he had to take them out to satisfy his thirst for revenge that didn't even start until recently.

The characters that really irked me were the women. See, Repairman Jack has two love interests in this book. One is a woman he had a relationship with, but who broke up with him when she discovered he wasn't actually a repairman. She was a shrew. I hated everything about her. I couldn't stand any scene with her in it. She didn't give this man she was in love with a chance to explain anything to her, she judged him and harped on her feelings about his life every single bloody time we saw her, she blamed him for all kinds of things, and she sent mixed signals (because comfort--blah.) I feel like he was trying to write her as a "strong" woman, but what she was instead was a nasty, angry person. Blech.

The other love interest wasn't much better. She was a guardian of the rakoshi, and incredibly old, despite her appearances. At first, I liked her. She was strong, she was sultry, and she knew what she wanted. But she dissolved entirely, and turned out to be yet another damsel in distress for Jack to take care of, even against the creatures she had been put in charge of. What? She's 200 years old, but she goes into shock when he needs her most, whimpers and spaces out, lets the villain walk over her. Blech again. I wanted to slap her. She was useless. Why?

Every female in this book was a damsel in distress. Every single one. Trying to write them as strong doesn't cover that up. And my version of strong is obviously different than his, which is fine. To each their own. But I was so distracted by these women's weaknesses that I couldn't get fully engaged in any scene involving them. I found their weakness tiresome. I rolled my eyes every time they got in trouble or made a stupid mistake. I felt letdown whenever a chapter was about one of them.

On top of that, his relation to Gia, the woman he loves, but who broke up with him, irritated me to no end. They'd been apart for months, and she never tried to hide how disgusted she was by him. Yet he kept pushing, kept bugging her, kept calling, kept talking to her like nothing was wrong. And he was repeatedly hurt by her rebuffs. In short, I wanted to slap him. Stop being hurt by it. Leave her alone. I'm sorry you're hurt, but you're making it worse by constantly pursuing someone who doesn't want to be with you. Grow a pair and walk away, dude.


In other words, the story is interesting, and the rakoshi mythology was well enough created that I actually looked them up to see if they were a real legend in India (nope.) The relationships and female characterizations were the weak points of this book. The story line was the strong point. I was rooting for him in everything but love (seriously, ugh). I think the tension could have been better.

This is an early book in the series, I believe, so it probably got better. One of the things about this list is that often the first book is put up as the author's best of, and that's rarely the case. Despite my not at all concealed rage at the female characters and "romance," I would read another Repairman Jack novel. I'd just skim to make sure Gia wasn't in it first. If the women in that book were as weak and useless, I'd stop there.

I'm having a harder time ranking books as I go now that the numbers are growing, but here's my best shot at it.

My new rankings:

1. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
2. The Bottoms (Joe R. Lansdale)
3. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
4. Those Who Hunt the Night (Barbara Hambly)
5. The Wolf's Hour (Robert McCammon)
6. Berserk (Tim Lebbon)
7. Best New Horror, Volume 1 (edited by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell)
8. Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)
9. The Imago Sequence (Laird Barron)
10. From the Dust Returned (Ray Bradbury)
11. In Silent Graves (Gary A. Braunbeck)
12. The Tomb (F. Paul Wilson)
13. The Cipher (Kathe Koja)
14. Drawing Blood (Poppy Z. Brite)
15. The Doll Who Ate His Mother (Ramsey Campbell
16. Hotel Transylvania (Chelsea Quinn Yarbro)

Now that I've officially depleted my closest library's reserves of books from the list, I'm unsure what book will be next. I need to switch back to the ebooks and see what I can come up with.

Have you read F. Paul Wilson? How about his Repairman Jack books? Do they get better? What did you think of the character of Jack? How do you define a strong woman character?

May you find your Muse.


Andrew Leon said...

Hmm... Some of it sounds interesting, but I don't know if it's enough to make me want to read it.

mshatch said...

There's nothing worse than irritating characters. Sometimes they can ruin a whole book.

I think strong characters - regardless of sex - have a few things in common: they know who they are and what they want, they're clever in some way, and they don't make the same mistakes twice

Susan Kane said...

Repairman Jack--a great name. But I can see how it is irritating. At least one of the females has to have some redeeming qualities. Like you, I hope the second book takes that route.

John Wiswell said...

Is Repairman Jack just a white guy? If so, does the author do anything to avoid the problematic nature of a white guy conquering a crazy Indian demon? Cultural appropriation for the elevation of white people is a problem I've noticed in a lot of Urban Fantasy.

Shannon Lawrence said...

I've been told one of the other books in the series is good, too. I did like the character.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Those are good qualifications. And for me, I'd like them to be consistent to their character.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Yes, if one of them had been less annoying, I think I could have dealt with it.

Shannon Lawrence said...

He is a white guy. I can't say he did anything to make it okay that he was conquering a crazy Indian demon, but I didn't think it was badly handled.