Every now and then I focus on a New Pulp work that I think merits your attention. Sometimes it will be something that’s brand new, other times I’ll look at something that’s a few years old. This week, I’m encouraging you to check out Sgt. Janus Returns by Jim Beard.
Before we talk about the book itself, let’s see how the publisher describes it:
Jim Beard’s original occult investigator, Sgt. Roman Janus, returns in a second all-new collection of suspenseful adventures. Or does he? At the end of the first book, SGT. JANUS – SPIRIT BREAKER, our intrepid hero mysteriously vanished into another realm never to be seen again. Now, almost a full year later, a dark haired beauty, with no memory of her own identity, suddenly appears and begins assuming Janus’ role in seeking out troublesome poltergeist and laying them to rest. Aided by a young clerk named Joshua, this mysterious Lady Janus possesses personal knowledge known only to the missing occultist. Who is this strange, daring woman? Is she Janus reincarnated? Or is she something even more sinister? Once again writer Jim Beard turns the entire occult genre upside down as he delivers another eight stories filled with mystery, horror and non-stop action—all driving to a startling finale pulp fans of the weird dare not miss.
Before we get too deep into the review, let me say this: the first book in this series was a solidly plotted and well-constructed homage to the old Victorian-style ghost breakers. It was a fantastic read.
But this book blows it out of the water.
The author does something that’s so bold with this book — I don’t want to spoil all the details — but to do a volume in which the main character functions almost as a secondary figure is something that you don’t see all the time. Even more interesting is the fact that the “replacement” characters who take center stage were just as fascinating as Sgt. Janus himself. To be honest, I would have been fine seeing Lady Janus and Joshua continue on for the rest of the series! Their interplay was very well done and I love how it was allowed to slowly deepen over the course of the book.
As with the first volume, this one contains multiple stories. The conceit of the first one was that each was narrated by a different person. Here, we get a consistent voice — Joshua — and I think that while the first book was an excellent example of its type, I found myself pleased to have the same narrator from story to story in this one. It allowed for us to get a strong connection to the character and to see Lady Janus through his eyes.
The cover… when I first saw it, I honestly didn’t care for it. Something about it just didn’t seem right for the ambiance I felt the author was going for. But the interior pieces were fantastic and by the end of the book, I’d gotten so used to the artist’s portrayal of Lady Janus and Joshua that I felt like I was looking at the cover with new eyes. It’s hard for me to imagine these characters looking like anything else, to be honest.
This book is one of the best New Pulp adventures I have ever read. High praise? It’s well deserved. I’ve enjoyed the author’s past works but I really feel that he’s elevated his game with this one. I simply can’t recommend it high enough!