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Jack of Spades


Jack of Spades

Andrew J. Rush writes popular mystery novels and has a huge following. His books, which aren’t scary or grotesque, are just middle-level crime fiction. But Andrew has a nasty secret: he writes gory, misogynist mysteries using the name "Jack of Spades." He keeps these books hidden in a special closet built in the basement of his rather beautiful home. His novels have been translated into many languages, and two movies have been adapted for the screen. Still, he has moments of doubt about himself.

Then one day, Andrew receives in the mail a summons to appear in court to answer a lawsuit against him. He’s in shock, and reading the court document does not ease his anxiety, especially when he sees that someone named C. W. Haider is accusing him of an act of theft. Andrew knows this is ridiculous but also is cognizant of the fact that a person unknown to him has invaded his life, and he has no idea why. He begins to unravel, and his psychopathology simmers to the surface.

"The book is a very good read that is neither long nor complex. Fans of Edgar Allan Poe are sure to recognize some of his story plots woven through the novel."

Andrew contacts the court and speaks to the woman who signed the summons, trying to find out what he is supposed to have stolen. She has no idea but explains that he is dealing with civil court, which does not demand criminal charges. Nevertheless, Andrew keeps bothering her and complains that she spelled his name wrong, on top of everything else, until she finally hangs up on him. He then makes a decision he probably will regret: he phones C. W. Haider, convincing himself that this individual will like him for the sound of his voice.

When the call goes through, Andrew at first thinks he is speaking with a child, as the voice on the other end is so high. When he asks why she took out a summons for him, she inexplicably does not answer right away. She plays with him, telling him that he knows what he stole from her. Of course, he knows no such thing. When she calls him a plagiarist and continues to scream at him, also accusing him of entering her home to steal her work, he realizes she is a mental case.

JACK OF SPADES continues in the first person narrative style that Joyce Carol Oates presents. The book is a very good read that is neither long nor complex. Fans of Edgar Allan Poe are sure to recognize some of his story plots woven through the novel. Readers experience all of Andrew's angst and may want to shake him back to reality. Oates adds some murder and bloody scenes to keep those who expects such things in a mystery happy. And this surely is a twisting maze of what seems to be reality. As one of the most prolific writers of the day, Oates does not let her fans down --- and she undoubtedly will pick up new ones with her latest effort.

Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on May 15, 2015

Jack of Spades
by Joyce Carol Oates