Friday, August 3, 2012

Undercover Review: Sgt. Janus, Spirit Breaker

Review by Nick Ahlhelm

Sgt. Janus, Spirit-Breaker was certainly not what I expected. I saw that great Jeff Herndon cover and expected to get some kind of action-based spirit fighter, maybe something along the lines of Kolchak perhaps with a bit of a Doc Savage edge. Instead, I get something far closer to author Jim Beard’s admitted inspiration, the classic character Carnacki.

Unlike the lone Carnacki story I read many moons ago, in the world of Roman Janus, the spirits are very real. Beard takes an interesting narrative avenue as he introduces the world to his new character. The book takes the form of several letters or reports all written to Sgt. Janus and about Sgt. Janus. Apparently Janus likes records of his works and our storytellers are fulfilling that request, sometimes happily, sometimes under duress.

The stories span the gamut of ghostly tales, from haunted objects to a murder solved with the help of the victim. The stories grow creepier as the book continues, even as the stories start to tie closer into one another. The influence of H.P. Lovecraft permeates the latter half of the book, intermingling with the Hodgson-influenced Spirit-Breaker.

It’s nigh impossible to describe a ghost story without spoiling something of the story so I will not go into detail about the 8 tales collected in the book. But the judgment of a good short story collection is almost always determined by what percentage of the stories a writer enjoyed reading in the book.

This reviewer can say without any doubt that he found seven of the eight stories in the book completely compelling. The weakest tale proves to be the last as the adventure, though tragic, seems somewhat less creative than the intricacies of Beard’s other tales of his Spirit-Breaker. It’s presence at the end of the book almost makes it ending that much less surprising as it seemed to this reader as the only ending that really could occur by the eighth tale.

But even while that story isn’t Beard’s strongest work, the first 7/8ths of this book are pulp gold. New Pulp needs more characters willing to tread as unique a path as Sgt. Janus.
Go out and give it a try. Highly Recommended.

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