A mystery writer slowly becomes subsumed by his dark alter ego in Oates' tale of literary madness.
Andrew J. Rush has made a name for himself and more than a comfortable living as a successful mystery writer. He's published 28 novels, and an early review even called him "the gentleman's Stephen King." But behind the happily married family man with three grown children who's the favorite son of his small New Jersey town lies a secret, ultraviolent series of noir thrillers Rush writes under the pseudonym "Jack of Spades." No one—not even his doting wife, Irina—knows about Jack: Rush dashes the books off in secret and sends them to a separate agent and publisher. Despite its grisly content, the series sells modestly well. Rush's two worlds seem to coexist in parallel harmony until the day his daughter, Julia, finds a copy of Jack's A Kiss Before Killing in Rush's office and decides to read it. Soon after, Rush is hit with a bizarre plagiarism lawsuit from C.W. Haider, a local woman claiming he not only copied her ideas, but physically stole her work. In an enjoyable bit of metafiction, Oates (The Sacrifice, 2015, etc.) depicts Haider as particularly litigious when it comes to the literary set: she's sued Stephen King, John Updike, and Peter Straub, among others. While the mild-mannered Rush is merely indignant at being accused, Jack of Spades wants revenge, and so begins his slow descent into madness.
With its homages to Poe, from "The Black Cat" to "The Tell-Tale Heart," and the horror masters Jack of Spades so admires, this latest unsettling and chilling thriller from Oates does not disappoint.