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In the tradition of the great fictional Golden Age ghost hunters--John Silence, Physician Extraordinary; Professor Challenger; Carnacki, the Ghost Finder; John Bell, Ghost-Exposer--comes the enigmatic Sgt. Roman Janus, Spirit-Breaker.
This is an Edwardian or Lovecraftian pastiche, yes, but an ingenious and inventive romp full of striking images, subtle horrors, and moments of real shock. In a fresh variation of the single-narrator ghost story formula, Sgt. Janus insists that the client write up a report of the case, a notion which allows Beard to play with the voices of all sorts of vivid characters: a spinster lady, a stolid police officer, a no-nonsense businessman, a bereft lover. Janus himself, initially a Man of Mystery, becomes a more defined personality as the book goes on--more vulnerable and less super-human.
Beard has a keen eye for grimly amusing touches--like a ghost being exorcised by being stuffed into a waste paper basket or a ghoul pulling itself down a chimney and out the fireplace. I particularly liked the images in "The Unbroken Lock", the slowly building menace of "When the Rain Comes" and, most gripping of all (I found myself shrieking at the author that, no, you can't let that happen!) the horror of "The Unfinished Record", which seems to be setting up a sequel. We can only live in hope.
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Sergeant Janus is a bit of an enigma. I liked the author's nod to those who went before, Carnacki the Ghost Finder and The Dream Detective. But Sgt. Janus is a "spirit breaker", one who functions to cast out ghosts that haunt the unwary. The stories have left me with more questions than answers, but they are well written and flow fairly easy. The cliff-hanger story at the end of the book was a nice touch and hopefully a lead in to a second volume.
Hopefully the new volume will answer a few questions. I'll try to ask them without spoiling anything for a first time reader, so if you feel these questions are spoilers, it isn't my intent. In fact you might read the book with added interest trying to see what I'm talking about.
1) Exactly what is the secret of the good Sergeant's rather unique house? 2) Exactly what is up with the Sergeant's enigmatic and efficient housekeeper? (I'd add what I think, but it might spoil something) 3) What is the secret of Sergeant Janus' powerful talisman? 4) Why does the Sergeant insist that his clients write up their own cases?
Looking for more ghostly and ghastly adventure to come!
This review is based on an advance copy sent to me by the publisher, in my capacity as a regular book reviewer for the British Fantasy Society website.
There are many characters in fiction, who are shrouded in mystery, but who inevitably lose that air of otherworldliness as we find out more about them. Jim Beard has been very clever here, in that the only information we ever get on Sgt. Roman Janus, his home and his staff comes from the reports of his varied clients, who may be biased, unreliable, hostile, or fanciful. Beard is also intentionally vague about the period and settings of these stories. Reading the first one, I was leaning towards them being set in the UK, but later stories suggested an American setting. The period seems to be later than the classic occult detective tales of Carnacki, or John Silence, but not that much later - a generation maybe. I thought I'd found a mistake when Sgt. Janus is referred to as a para-psychiatrist, rather than a para-psychologist. After giving it some thought, I realised that a psychologist is mainly concerned with research and study, whereas a psychiatrist is concerned with fixing the problem, hence para-psychiatrist is actually the correct term. I don't really want to describe each story individually. Suffice to say that they are varied in both the voice of the narrator and the details of the hauntings, which provide the focus of the tales. I found I enjoyed each story more than the one previous, although I can't say if this is because they actually get better, or if it was simply because I became more deeply immersed in the strange world of Sgt. Janus as I progressed through the book. While each story is separate and can be read on its own, they do gradually build upon each other to give the feel of a novel.Read more ›
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I had read and enjoyed the author's Captain Action novel,so I thought I'd give this one a try. This was even better. Beard did a nice job of capturing the feel of the Victorian/Edwardian books that inspired him. It was a fast, highly enjoyable read and I'm looking forward to the next installment.
This is a really enjoyable book, with a bit of a twist from other, similar works. I enjoyed the different personalities the author creates, the strange house he lives in, and his odd housekeeper. Each of the stories is unique. It's a good book just for relaxing and being entertained.
I met the author in Toledo and bought the book on a whim. Usually a die hard SF fan I try to make myself read other genres since there is a whole world of great literature out there that I would otherwise miss. However, ghost stories are definitely not my thing, or so I would have said before I read Sgt. Janus, Spirit Breaker. I went into this read with no expectations whatsoever, but after sampling the first lines it was already apparent to me that the words were flowing easily and the sentences felt tight, comprehensive and well constructed. Thus encouraged I read on. The author chooses an unusual tool for the narrator, namely that Sgt. Janus' clients tell of their experiences in their own words. The book consists of all these client accounts which makes for an interesting and varied read. However, least one thinks that this must feel like individual short stories, it really does not since all the stories have a common thread (Sgt. Janus) that ties them together and the character gets developed as you progress in the book. All this is set in the Edwardian era which I also was not entirely sure about when Jim described it to me but which I actually did like a lot. For some reason I got the feeling that Edgar Allan Poe might have liked this book, even though he was not born into the Edwardian era. I really appreciated the way the stories were woven together, but won't elaborate more on the story since my biggest complaint in reading a review is when too much is given away.
My two biggest regrets in reading the book were that I did not have more time on my hands to read it faster and that it came to an end much too soon.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to expand their reading and appreciates the craft of writing.Read more ›
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Jim Beard writes adventure fiction in a classic pulp style.
A native Toledoan, he was introduced to comic books at an early age by his father, who passed on to him a love for the medium and the pulp characters who preceded it. After decades of reading, collecting and dissecting comics, Jim became a published writer when he sold a story to DC Comics in 2002. Since that time he's written official Star Wars and Ghostbusters comic stories and contributed articles and essays to several volumes of comic book history.
His prose work includes GOTHAM CITY 14 MILES, a book of essays on the 1966 Batman TV series; SGT. JANUS, SPIRIT-BREAKER, a collection of pulp ghost stories featuring an Edwardian occult detective; MONSTER EARTH, a shared-world giant monster anthology; and CAPTAIN ACTION: RIDDLE OF THE GLOWING MEN, the first pulp prose novel based on the classic 1960s action figure.
Jim also Currently provides regular content for Marvel.com, the official Marvel Comics website, is a regular columnist for Toledo Free Press, and co-hosts a pop culture radio show for WSPD 1370 out of Toledo.
Please visit him at http://sgtjanus.blogspot.com and on Facebook at http://facebook.com/thebeardjimbeard