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F. Paul Wilson, Secret Circles, Gauntlet Press, 216 pages.

“Listen and think.” Mr. Kressy, Jack’s Civics teacher. (Secret Circles, p. 92)

In the young adult novel Secret Circles, F. Paul Wilson continues the story of the young Jack as he lays the groundwork for the Repairman that he will become. In the first of this trilogy –– Secret Histories –– Wilson explored Jack’s teenage friendship with Weezy and Eddie Connell and how they become acquainted with Ernst Drexler, “actuator” for the Ancient Septimus Fraternal Order. Knowing this background illuminated the events that occurred in Ground Zero, when we saw these people converging again as adults. (The last book in this young adult trilogy, Secret Vengeance, is currently scheduled for publication by Gauntlet Press in December, 2010.)

Perhaps the events of Secret Circles will likewise inform what transpires in the next Repairman Jack book, Fatal Error (publication set for June/July, 2010). Regardless, before it is finished, this tale for younger readers will grab them by the throats, shake them without mercy, then leave them limp and trembling by the time the story is told.

The target audience will love it…

In Secret Circles, Jack, his female friend Weezy, and her brother Eddie venture once more into the Pine Barrens, an almost mystical realm where all manner of odd events can –– and do –– occur. Weezy is obsessed with the mysterious black pyramid that was stolen from her at the end of Secret Histories. Her relentless focus on retrieving what she discovered –– and thereby proving that she is not crazy –– drives one of the major plot lines in Secret Circles. She is convinced that Drexler has hidden her trophy in the seemingly impregnable realm of the Lodge that he guards so closely. As Weezy’s best friend, Jack is –– despite his better judgment –– drawn into this dangerous quest.

Circles, of course, seamlessly connect some things while simultaneously separating others. This dual theme of ruthless separation and unavoidable association runs throughout Secret Circles. Before Jack and Weezy are finished, they will become immersed in a chain of events that drags them in directions they would prefer not to go. But despite the perils they face from the sheltered secrets of the Barrens and of Drexler’s Lodge, the worst secrets are those that are hidden in plain sight.

“I think it comes down to truth,” [Karina Haddon] added. “Isn’t the truth important?”

“Very,” [Jack] said.

She raised a fist. “Truth.”

“But what is truth?” he asked, just to see how she’d react.

“...The truth is. We can twist it every which way with our minds and our words, but that doesn’t change the truth. The truth is what trips you up when you walk around with your eyes closed.” (p. 210 - 211)

Secret Circles has Jack torn between the “bliss of ignorance” and the pain of discovering and facing “the truth”: about himself, about his friends, about his community. For Jack, though, the eventual choice is inherent in his very nature. Even as a young man, reality is Jack’s touchstone. He could no more evade that reality, could no more fail to identify the “actual” than he could ignore the injustices that thrust themselves into his awareness.

While Weezy is determined to expose the Secret History of the World, Jack finds himself impelled to reveal the secret history of a far more mundane menace, a monster posing as a model family man, a man who once stood as a paragon of fatherhood and a personal friend of Jack, a man running for political office. How Jack decides to take on this example of real-world horror and display its depravity for all to see forms a second major element in Secret Circles.

But while this on-the-job-training to become a “repairman” is a task Jack is dedicated to finishing, he is not without personal qualms as to the wisdom of his actions. Indeed, he wonders how to reconcile his convictions with the condemnation of what he is doing by the very people he is endeavoring to help.

He ponders this dilemma with a fellow classmate and potential romantic interest, Karina Haddon:

“But...someone invaded their privacy.” [Jack said.]

“Yeah, true, but he was running for public office. Don’t people have a right to know who they’re voting for? I want to know everything about anybody who’s going to be making decisions that affect me.”

“Everyone’s got a right to privacy.”

[Karina] nodded. “Absolutely. But if you want privacy, don’t go public. A man with a secret life shouldn’t step into the spotlight and expect to keep his secrets…”

I like you, Karina Haddon, Jack thought. (p. 210 - 211)

Jack, of course, acknowledges that he has secrets of his own to conceal. The crucial difference, however, between his desire to keep his life private –– from friends and family, from society and State –– and the similar hope of Mr. Vivino is that the latter’s inclination is designed to protect his world from legitimate scrutiny and thus provide him license to continue his evil behavior. Jack’s goal, however, is simply to protect his own life from those who would rob him of his values, from those who seek to control and chain him, to use him as a means to their own dishonorable ends.

More so than its predecessor, Secret Circles ratchets the tension to nearly unbearable levels. The disappearance of five-year-old Cody Bockman traumatizes both Jack and the small New Jersey community in which he lives. Intersecting circles lead Jack towards the secret of Cody’s dire fate. As the story approached the final resolution, I found myself reading as quickly as I could, both drawn by the (literally) dark peril and –– much like Jack –– fearfully reluctant to face head-on that “truth” Jack would ultimately unearth; eager to discover reality but dreading what I would find.

Secret Circles asks many of its characters to decide how important such stark truth is to them. Some want nothing more than to be “seen” for who they are. Others are desperately anxious to maintain the facade they have carefully cultivated to conceal the reality of their tarnished existences. Whether Weezy or Jack or the “Pineys,” Mr. Drexler or Mr. Vivino or Vivino’s wife, all must choose and face the consequences of the difficult path they have selected.

For as Mr. Rosen (owner of USED [sic], youthful Jack’s employer, and literary cousin of adult Jack’s friend, Abe) could tell them about his own history in Nazi Germany, being committed to the truth is important...but rarely is such allegiance easy.

In this second of the trilogy, we are reacquainted with the strange Mrs. Clevenger and her deceptively innocent (yet deadly) three-legged dog. Her odd friend, Weird Walt, also comes to the forefront as he and his guardian do their best to protect the future Repairman. And, of course, the shadowy “bear” that is the Jersey Devil threads its way into the fabric of the novel in critical ways that presage encounters yet to come.

While I enjoyed Secret Histories, this trilogy has really hit its stride with Secret Circles. The truth is that this is a “young” adult novel that any adult reader of Wilson’s saga will enjoy. I look forward to the last volume in this trilogy and the final two Repairman Jack novels that will reveal the secrets, once and for all, of this battle between mindless destruction and oh-so-fragile life.