Review: Jack of Spades

Jack of Spades
Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jack of Spades
By Joyce Carol Oates

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

“Out of the air, the ax. Somehow there was an ax and it rose and fell in a wild swath aimed at my head even as I tried to rise from my squatting position and lost my balance desperate to escape as my legs faltered beneath me and there came a hoarse pleading voice—No! No please! No—(was this my own choked voice, unrecognizable?)—as the ax-blade crashed and sank into the splintering desk beside my head missing my head by inches; by which time I’d fallen heavily onto the floor, a hard unyielding floor beneath the frayed Oriental carpet.”

 

There, how’s that for an opening sentence? Author Oates has done it again. Written a creepy mystery with a few twists and one major revelation that spins the tale into a really nice, satisfying, splashy ending. There will be no sequel.

 

Meet famous suspense author Andrew J. Rush. A self-made writer dude with an ego as big as, well Stephen King! Only the latter is real. This is one of those stories that had me burning the midnight oil, not only because I had a deadline, but also because Oates creation, famous-author-Rush was busy getting into so much trouble that I honestly had my doubts how in the world he was going to survive.

 

Without spilling the beans too too much, here’s the deal. So Rush has this alter ego, this voice that bursts into his head and forces him to write a separate, more sinister series in total secret. Rush is publicly famous for his King-like novels of high-brow suspense that have tidy endings, but this other series, this totally badass secret one is slowly swallowing up his sanity. It’s an interesting concept and has been woven into novels about a million times before. The only difference this go around is that Andrew Rush thinks that this alter ego is like, not him.

 

Are you with me so far? Good. Throw into this rather tense-insane situation a crazy-rich eccentric woman who accuses Rush of plagiarizing her work and you have a total whack-job of a murder mystery and boy does it get bloody and messy and edgy and you pretty much want this Andrew dude to jump off a cliff toward the end.

 

You really do.

 

Well, that is good writing. And Author Oates does a pretty slam-dunk good job of it. My only complaint is I wanted a tad more background on his wimpy, boring-as-watching-paint-dry wife. She really was a flat character and I constantly wanted to give her some decent come-back lines.

 

This novel (or novella as it’s really a fast read) was a total cake-walk in that it all winds up to a tidy finale and you smack the cover closed and sigh and maybe have one more bite of cake. Here, this won’t give anything away, the last sentence;

 

“I do not turn, and I do not flinch, as the fingers gently touch me and urge me out into the air.”

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