Title: Jack of Spades
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Rating: * * * * *
Review:Joyce Carol Oates new novel of suspense, Jack of Spades, is novel about an author of suspense. His name is Andrew J Rush, and he is a man who has it all in the world of books: big sales, a great agent, and side job writing novels with a character, Jack of Spades, that brings in extra cash.
The problem is nobody knows that he is the writer of these disturbing novels, not even his family. He even has a room in his basement where he keeps them stored and does a lot of his writing (you know this is not going to end well.)
Mr. Rush lives in a small town in New Jersey where everybody knows everybody. He is on his way to publishing his next novel. He accused of plagiarism. His publishers tell him to not panic. They will lawyer up because this happens to the best of writers, even Stephen King.
Andrew J. Rush has made a name for himself and more than a comfortable living as a successful mystery writer. He’s published 28 novels, and an early review even called him “the gentleman’s Stephen King.” But behind the happily married family man with three grown children who’s the favourite son of his small New Jersey town lies a secret, ultra-violent series of noir thrillers Rush writes under the pseudonym “Jack of Spades.” No one—not even his doting wife, Irina—knows about Jack: Rush dashes the books off in secret and sends them to a separate agent and publisher. Despite its grisly content, the series sells modestly well. Rush’s two worlds seem to coexist in parallel harmony until the day his daughter, Julia, finds a copy of Jack’s A Kiss Before Killing in Rush’s office and decides to read it. Soon after, Rush is hit with a bizarre plagiarism lawsuit from C.W. Haider, a local woman claiming he not only copied her ideas, but physically stole her work. In an enjoyable bit of metafiction, Oates (The Sacrifice, 2015, etc.) depicts Haider as particularly litigious when it comes to the literary set: she’s sued Stephen King, John Updike, and Peter Straub, among others. While the mild-mannered Rush is merely indignant at being accused, Jack of Spades wants revenge, and so begins his slow descent into madness.
Ms. Oates seems to be very playful in this novel because his name as well as other mystery and horror writers comes up often. It’s actually very funny how she takes each writer and, like a balloon, she pops each one.
Anyway I digress. Mr. Rush is annoyed that someone would accuse him. The accuser is C. W. Haider who we soon find out is a failed writer who is sitting on a treasure trove of unpublished or vanity published novels. She also has a book lover’s dream collection of first signed editions including Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
When the case comes to trial we meet Ms. Haider who turns out to be a bit of nut case, even though she has proof that her works are similar to Mr. Rush’s. The case is dismissed and Ms. Haider is committed to a mental facility. Now if you were Andrew you would say: “I’m glad that’s over. Now I can get back to my novels. I guess being famous has its crazy moments.”
Unfortunately, that is not what happens. He begins to drink, which we find out is when Mr. Rush writes the Jack of Spade novels. He hears voices from Jack of Spades that make him do bad things. If that weren’t enough he begins to believe his wife is having an affair.
His sons begin to hate him and his daughter, who is reading Jack of Spade novels, thinks someone is stealing their life stories. This is when things begin to truly unravel for Andrew and we get a flashback scene that may make us understand who Andrew J Rush really is.
Are the voices he hears from Jack of Spades going to lead him down the path of destruction, or will he be able to control them and be satisfied with an everyday successful writing career? Who does Andrew want to be? You will not put the book down until you find out.
Now this is not Ms. Oates first time at the rodeo with novels of suspense. They are usually hit or miss affairs but with Jack of Spades Ms. Oates places her cards on the table and shows us a Royal Straight Flush. With its homages to Poe, from “The Black Cat” to “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and the horror masters Jack of Spades so admires, this latest unsettling and chilling thriller from Oates does not disappoint.
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