This time around, the prolific Joyce Carol Oates (who writes under a pseudonym or two of her own) offers a disturbing thriller about a mystery writer whose pen name starts to cause him problems in the real world.
Andrew Rush, author of twenty-eight highly successful mysteries, is quite pleased with himself these days. His career solidly established, Rush has earned the respect of readers and critics, alike. But Andrew Rush has a problem. His agent and publisher expect him to keep doing what has worked so well for him in the past, and that is not enough for Rush anymore. Unbeknownst to his wife, children, or even to his longtime agent, Rush has been writing novels under the pseudonym Jack of Spades for a while now – novels that are nothing like the ones he writes under his own name.
The Jack of Spades novels are so disturbingly dark, masochistic, and violent that Andrew Rush would not even want to be seen carrying one of them around. They are so strange that public libraries ignore their existence, so bad that when one of Rush’s grown daughters stumbles upon a copy of a Jack of Spade novel in her father’s study, she is repelled by its very existence. But for reasons he would probably not admit even to himself, Andrew Rush badly needs Jack at this point in his life. However, not until a local woman accuses him of plagiarism and presses formal charges against him, does Rush realize just how much he needs Jack.
Andrew Rush fears embarrassment and damage to his personal reputation as much as he fears anything in life. Even though his publisher provides legal representation (and very expensive representation, at that) and assures him there is nothing to be much concerned about, Rush finds it difficult to think of anything but the lawsuit’s potential to ruin his reputation. The writer, though, is not getting advice only from his lawyer; Jack of Spades is at his ear, too – and is offering him a more hands-on solution to his lawsuit problem. Now the big question is whether or not Andrew Rush will come to his senses before his descent into utter madness consumes him and those around him.
Jack of Spades is a tip-of-the hat from one writer to another. Oates makes numerous references throughout the novel to horror author Stephen King, even using King as a very minor character in the story at one point. King fans are likely to be pleased that Oates even mentions a plot twist or two of King’s that are similar to the general plot of Jack of Spades.
Bottom Line: Jack of Spades, although somewhat predictable, is a fun ride that fits snugly within the horror thriller genre. Fans of the genre are certain to appreciate it.
(to be published on May 5, 2015)