Excerpt from Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Jack of Spades

A Tale of Suspense

by Joyce Carol Oates

Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates X
Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates
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  • First Published:
    May 2015, 208 pages
    May 2016, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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1   The Ax

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. I was scrambling to right myself, grabbing for the ax, desperate to seize the ax, in the blindness of desperation my hands flailing, and the voice (my own? my assailant's?) high-pitched and hardly human-sounding—"No! Nooo"—a fleeting glimpse of the assailant's stubby fingers and dead-white ropey-muscled arms inside the flimsy sleeves of nightwear, and a grunting cry as of triumph and fury commingled; and again the terrible lifting of the ax-head, the dull sheen of the crude ax-blade, and the downward swing of Death once begun unstoppable, irretrievable plunging into a human skull as easily rent as a melon with no more protection than a thick rind, to expose the pulpy gray-matter of the brain amid a torrential gushing of arterial blood.

And still the voice rising disbelieving No no no no no.

2   "Jack of Spades"

Five months, two weeks and six days before, it had begun innocently. There was no reason to suspect that "Jack of Spades" would be involved at all.

For no one here in Harbourton knew about "Jack of Spades"— even now, no one knows. Not one person who is close to Andrew J. Rush—my parents, my wife and children, neighbors, longtime friends of mine from high school.

Here, in this rural-suburban community in New Jersey where I was born fifty-three years ago, and where I have lived with my dear wife, Irina, for more than seventeen years, I am known as "Andrew J. Rush"—arguably the most famous of local residents, author of bestselling mystery-suspense novels with a touch of the macabre. (Not an excessive touch, not nasty-mean, or disturbing. Never obscene, nor even sexist. Women are treated graciously in my mysteries, apart from a few obligatory noir performances. Corpses are likely to be white adult males.) With my third bestseller in the 1990s it began to be said about me in the media—Andrew J. Rush is the gentleman's Stephen King.

Of course, I was flattered. Sales of my novels, though in the millions after a quarter-century of effort, are yet in the double-digit millions and not the triple-digit, like Stephen King's. And though my novels have been translated into as many as thirty languages—(quite a surprise to me, who knows only one language)—I'm sure that Stephen King's books have been translated into even more, and more profitably. And only three of my novels have been adapted into (quickly forgotten) films, and only two into (less-than-premium cable) TV dramas—unlike King, whose adaptations are too many to count.

So far as money is concerned, there is no comparing Andrew J. Rush and Stephen King. But when you have made, after taxes, somewhere in excess of thirty million dollars, you simply stop thinking about money, as, perhaps, a serial killer simply stops thinking about how many people he has killed, after a few dozen victims.

(Excuse me! I think that must have been a callous remark, which I'm sure would provoke my dear Irina to kick my ankle in reprimand as she sometimes does when I misspeak in public. I did not mean to be callous at all but only just "witty"—in my clumsy way.)

However flattered I was by the comparison to Stephen King, I refused to allow my publisher to use this statement on the dust jacket of my next novel without first seeking permission from King; my admiration for Stephen King—(yes, and my envy of him)—didn't blind me to the possibility that such a statement might be offensive to him, as well as exploitative. But Stephen King didn't seem to care in the slightest. Reportedly he'd just laughed—Who'd want to be the gentleman's Stephen King, anyway?

Excerpted from Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates. Copyright © 2015 by Joyce Carol Oates. Excerpted by permission of Mysterious Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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