Book review: THE LAST DAYS OF JACK SPARKS by Jason Arnopp

 

The Last Days of Jack SparksVerdict: An engaging thriller with a fresh voice

If, like me, you have a pretty rigid pattern of reading habits, sometimes it’s not easy to step outside genre parameters. I’m an avid reader of SF, which admittedly is a broad field, but it’s rare that I read a book outside of that genre. In the case of Jason Arnopp’s THE LAST DAYS OF JACK SPARKS, I must say that I was genuinely pleased to have done so!

THE LAST DAYS OF JACK SPARKS (which I’ll refer to as JACK SPARKS from hereon in) is a thriller written in the “faux journalist” style. It is the tale of the great (or so he would have you believe) Jack Sparks, well-known for his literary works JACK SPARKS ON A POGO STICK and JACK SPARKS ON DRUGS. Only this time, perhaps in an effort to glean some more serious journalistic approval, Sparks has decided to investigate a topic close to heart: to examine the supernatural in its many and varied forms. This begins with Sparks’ travelling to a remote area of Italy, to witness a genuine exorcism. His reaction to what he sees and hears inextricably sets him on a path of self-destruction…

JACK SPARKS and I share the same publisher (Orbit), and my editor kindly gave me a copy of the book pre-release. I’d actually heard a bit about it before I started reading, as SPARKS has been generating something of a buzz online. After the first couple of chapters, I could see why: SPARKS is a fresh and gripping novel. From the get-go, SPARKS grabs you, shakes you, and won’t let go.

The characters are intriguing and necessarily flawed: Jack Sparks himself is a highly unlikeable character, but ideal as a narrator. The text published is an unfinished “work in progress”, interspersed with extracts from other sources (in an effort to add value, according to Sparks’ rather patronising older brother!). This allows for an intriguing juxtaposing of accounts, and leads me to one of the most interesting aspects of the book – the examination of the unreliable narrator. I really liked the comedic touches on this level as well (for example, Sparks’ insistence that he was allowed to watch a ghost hunting session because the victims of said spirit were big fans of his books; whereas a far more independent account suggests that he offered them money!). Interestingly, Arnopp then turns the tables on you later in the book; as Sparks’ decline becomes more pronounced, the reader’s sympathy actually shifts – his reliability seems to increase, whereas the account of a particular character becomes more questionable…

The subject matter of the book might be dark –the creepiness ramps up throughout the book, and there are several gruesome scenes – but Arnopp weaves a high level of humour throughout as well. Sparks’ love interest Rebecca (“Bex”) Lawson keeps things grounded and light, becoming more central as the plot develops. As one character notes, Sparks lives his life on social media. This aspect could’ve been grating, as could the noted references to other sources (such as text messages), but Arnopp weaves these elements into the story smoothly and ultimately they serve to improve the novel rather than detract from it.

THE LAST DAYS OF JACK SPARKS is great fun, well-written and compelling. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and for the record? If Arnopp ever writes JACK SPARKS ON A POGO STICK I’d probably read that too!

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