F. Paul Wilson | Berkley Books | 1984 | 404 pages
First in a series of books featuring Repairman Jack, an identity-less investigator who “fixes” unusual problems, The Tomb could be a superhero adventure, complete with origin story, if only its hero possessed any of the requisite skills—aside from those cultivated by performing a few sweaty workouts between meals of Lite Beer and Cocoa Puffs.
Hired by Kusum Bahkti, a one-armed Indian delegate to the United Nations, Jack searches for an assailant who robbed and beat Kusum’s grandmother on the street, leaving her near death. Kusum insists that Jack must find the family heirloom necklace that was stolen, and return it to his grandmother before she dies. Donning the garb of an old lady, Jack hits the streets of New York in drag in an attempt to ensnare the culprit.
Meanwhile, Jack agrees to help his estranged girlfriend, Gia, search for her missing aunt. Grace Westphalen, an English society matron, who seemingly disappeared without a trace from the second story of her fashionable East Side townhouse. Searching her living quarters for clues, Jack discovers nothing out of the ordinary, except for a vial of odd smelling ointment, unlabeled and out of place among her belongings. An analysis of the contents reveals the presence of durba grass, an alkaloid native to India.
Of course, the two narratives ultimately converge, with a horde of demons from Indian mythology threatening the descendants of a murderous tomb robber. Even at 400-plus pages, the story speeds along through evocative New York City neighborhoods, back to nineteenth-century India, and finishing with an action-packed finale on the waters of New York Harbor. Jack even has time for a tennis match with his father in New Jersey, who perhaps unwittingly validates Jack’s unconventional workout regime by noting, “You move fast. Damn fast. Faster than any appliance repairman I’ve ever known.”
Although some of the supporting characters tend toward one-note caricatures (Abe Grossman—gross man—a corpulent sporting goods store owner and illegal arms merchant, simply loves Entemann’s cakes), Jack is an appealing enough everyman, however armed and dangerous. He not only works through the case, but also grapples with his life choice to be a “repairman”, and attempts to rebuild his troubled relationship with Gia—with a brief timeout for wild, tantric sex with an immortal Indian demon watcher.