Sgt. Janus, Spirit-Breaker
by Jim Beard
Cover Artist: Jeff Herndon
Review by Nick Sauer
Airship 27 Production Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780615645605
Date: 16 May 2012 List Price $16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
A new era of pulp style literature has arrived with the turn of the century. The new-pulp movement features stories written in the classic pulp style by modern authors. The first collection of Sgt. Janus stories by Jim Beard introduces us to an exceptional mix of both the pulp hero and the classic ghost story.
This book is actually a collection of eight short stories that are connected by the mysterious figure of Sgt. Janus. While the stories are written in such a way as to each be readable on their own, they do gradually take us into a guided tour of the character and background of the Sergeant. Even his best friends, who show up in one of the stories, seem to know surprisingly little about him. He lives in an equally enigmatic house that is made up of a patchwork of various and not necessarily congruent architectural styles. His housekeeper is an even more mysterious character than the sergeant himself. While Janus largely remains a cipher throughout the book, we do learn enough about his character over the course of the eight stories to become familiar with him and develop a distinct appreciation for his personality.
The time period of the book is the first decade or two of the 1900s in the town of Mount Airy, although exactly where it's located is never really specified as there are several towns that bear that name throughout the United States. Sgt. Janus is an occult investigator whose work is mainly that of an early 20th century ghost buster. He does not charge his clients for his services but, instead, asks merely that they write an account of their experience with him and the situation that he deals with. This allows the author the clever gimmick of writing each story from a completely different perspective.
Of course, some people see Janus as a charlatan while others totally believe in his connection to the supernatural but, the one thing they all have in common is their need for his unique set of skills. This leads into another thing I like about the book, which is that doing this work takes its toll on Janus and is clearly having a long term affect on his health which is a nice turn around from the normal invulnerability we see with such characters.
Each story in the book is pretty unique with events in a couple of them taking a surprising turn at times. In fact, the last story itself leaves us with a bit of a dark cliffhanger for the finale. Fortunately, things may not be as bleak as they seem as a second volume of Sgt. Janus adventures is due shortly.