As usual, F. Paul Wilson begins Secret Vengeance with an excellent hook:
Weezy was attacked on a Saturday night.
On the surface, Secret Vengeance is about the aftermath of popular senior Carson Toliver's attempted date rape of Jack's best friend, Weezy Connell. Weezy refuses to report him, and Jack keeps her secret, as it's hers to tell. But when rumors start to spread about Weezy, Jack secretly (of course!) takes matters into his own hands. Because not only does he feel that Carson deserves payback, he figures that since Weezy won't -- maybe even can't -- stand up for herself, he will.
In Secret Vengeance, we get to see Jack really begin to think about how he sees the world, how he wants to interact with it, and start to evolve into what he'll be as an adult: A man with a strict moral code, who is willing to go serious lengths -- and break laws -- to right wrongs, enact revenge and generally give his help to people who need it. He even gets the idea, in Secret Vengeance, that helping people and getting paid for it might be a pretty cool gig.
Like the first two installments, Secret Vengeance can be read and enjoyed on multiple levels: Although there are references to the first two books, and although the book certainly feels like Part of Larger Whole, prior knowledge of Jack isn't necessary to enjoy it. Readers of Wilson's series about the adult life of Repairman Jack will most definitely appreciate moments like Jack's introduction to Abe Grossman* and all of the Hints of Things To Come, but again, that knowledge isn't necessary to enjoy the story on a more immediate level.
Secret Vengeance also has the same major flaw as the first two books. We know it's 1983 because we're told it's 1983 over and over again -- both straight-out ("This is 1983, not . . . not colonial times." (p70)), and by overt references to news events, name brands and bands** -- not because anything about the prose evokes any sort of 1983 feel. Also, the introduction of libertarian ideals that Jack finds so fascinating feels somewhat didactic, and will probably feel even more so to readers who aren't already invested in him. And lastly, even though I enjoyed the book wholeheartedly, the major storyline was pretty thin, and I couldn't help but feel, all the way through, that it was just a lead-up to the last Repairman Jack book, which is due out this fall.
But, like I said: I enjoyed the book wholeheartedly. Repairman Jack is a fabulous character, as a teenager and as an adult, and I'm extremely tempted to go and read everything in F. Paul Wilson's Secret History of the World in preparation for the very last Jack book.
*Seriously. It was a little like finally seeing C-3PO meet R2-D2.
**Minor quibble: There was also a reference to A Christmas Story (p88), which did come out in that year, but at least a month after the book is set. Oops.
Book source: Finished copy from the publisher.