Sgt. Janus, Spirit-Breaker by Jim Beard. Book review

SGT. JANUS, SPIRIT-BREAKER by Jim Beard, Airship 27, POD p/b, $13.99, .pdf, $3.00, link

Reviewed by David Brzeski

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. The final story (my personal favourite) leaves us with something of a cliffhanger, with the (final?) fate of Sgt. Janus in the balance. Did this leave me wanting more? Definitely.

It’s surprising to read, in the short piece on ‘Creating Sgt. Janus’ at the end of the book, that the author had only fairly recently read any of the original, classic occult detective fiction after being introduced to William Hope Hodgson’s character, Carnacki: the Ghost Finder, via Alan Moore’s ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentleman’ comic series. Maybe the Sgt. himself will one day make a cameo appearance in one of Moore’s tales.