cover image Jack of Spades

Jack of Spades

Joyce Carol Oates. Grove/Atlantic/Mysterious, $24 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2394-7

A writer’s secret pseudonymous identity becomes a conduit for his murderous dark side in Oates’s sleek and suspenseful excursion into the literary macabre. For years refined crime novelist Andrew J. Rush—known to his audience as “the gentleman’s Stephen King”—has moonlighted as Jack of Spades, an author of violent pulp potboilers. When an unhinged reader brings a ludicrous lawsuit against him for literary theft, Andrew snaps. Motivated by what Poe called “the imp of the perverse”—a quotation from the Poe story of that name serves as the book’s epigraph—he begins acting increasingly like a character in one of his alter ego’s nasty novels. Oates (High Crime Area) has endowed her first-person narrator with the slightly affected speaking style and overconfidence of one of Poe’s monomaniacal protagonists. Although she nods to a number of Poe’s classic tales—especially “The Black Cat” and “William Wilson”—the story’s modern spin is entirely of her own clever invention. Readers are sure to be gripped and unsettled by her depiction of a seemingly mild-mannered character whose psychopathology simmers frighteningly close to the surface. Agent: Warren Frazier, John Hawkins & Associates. (May)