Jan Phillips series by Michael Halfhill – Book 1: Whatever Happened to Jan Phillips?; Book 2: Sons
I read the first of the “Jan Phillips” books a couple years ago. Just finished the second one, and there’s a third, “Sparkles” just out a month ago on my TBR list. The first two books are rather different stories, and I’m going to break this review into two sections (in case anyone doesn’t want spoilers for Book 2).
Whatever Happened to Jan Phillips?
That’s a good question! From Jan’s beyond-humble beginnings - a desperate young man, turning to hustling on the corners of Philadelphia because his mother cannot afford to feed and house him along with his siblings – to a world of wealth, power, and literally global responsibility far from anything Jan could have ever imagined, rather a lot happened to Jan Phillips, actually.
From the windows of his redoubtable flat, Tim Morris spots painfully vulnerable Jan down on the street and finds he fancies a bit of rough. Tim is able to help Jan out of his dire straits, and gets a live-in lover to boot. It’s all very convenient for both of them, but Jan has has the cagey streak of a vulnerable street kid who’s never really had the luxury of being able to figure out who he is without considering someone else’s needs and wants. There’s a lot of tension between Tim and Jan because of that, but also because Tim is not exactly able to be 100% above-board with Jan.
Tim, you see, is the North American head of a worldwide secret society known as Mundus. Think of something like the Knights Templar. Behind-the-scenes international intrigue. They get done by sub rosa guile what more conventional diplomacy and muscle cannot. There’s no small amount of danger in a line like that, as Jan quickly finds out.
Ultimately, though, Tim comes to see the value in taking Jan into his confidence. It helps that Jan is also being groomed to follow in Tim’s footsteps as the head of the massively powerful law firm, Templars of Law. Meanwhile, Jan is starting to feel like his life is being decided for him, yet again, and begins to buck. Jan’s idea of bucking breaks Tim’s heart, a fact Jan will have to live with for the rest of his days.
After losing Tim, Jan comes to grow into his mantle as North American head of Mundus and top man at the law firm. He finds love again with Michael, the proprietor of an Asian imports shop. All seems to be going Jan’s way at last…. Which is always when you’ve got to worry! No spoilers here, though.
Whatever Happened to Jan Phillips? is a very well-crafted blend of high-intrigue and deep character study. A fantastic, highly satisfying read that I wholly recommend. Jan Phillips has something to offer just about every literary taste, the only thing it being light on is fluff.
The second Jan Phillips installment is quite a different offering. Whereas with Whatever Happened… I was left with much more the impression of international intrigue, Sons was much more character-driven. Jan and his role in Mundus is still very much in evidence, but the focus this time around is the re-emergence of Jan’s past – in the form of Colin, the son Jan did not know he had until his ex-sister-in-law abandons Colin with Jan on New Year’s Eve.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the apple and Colin isn’t at all unlike Jan as a teenager – cagey, desperate for independence, driven, not always very sensitive to the feelings of others. Colin’s drive has a way of making him oblivious to the pitfalls of a plan. Being the son of an extremely powerful man, but also being a not-so-street-smart kid makes for a very dangerous combination.
It’s a good thing for Colin and his girlfriend that Jan has the resources that he does at his command! But again… no spoilers.
This is another beautifully written selection from the Phillips series, quite different to the first story, but also very much true to the original spirit and feel of Book 1. I was quite glad to find there is a third installment, because Sons definitely left me wanting more - again. Mr. Halfhill has a subtle hand with the connecting details, not rehashing everything but giving the reader enough reminders to make the connections – and to make you want to go back and re-read Whatever Happened to Jan Phillips? Which might just be what I do before picking up Sparkles.