‘The Last Days of Jack Sparks’ is the very enjoyable debut novel from a journalist with a pretty colourful career, writing for magazines as cool as ‘The Word’, ‘Kerrang’ (beyond cool!) and ‘Q’. Jason Arnopp has also penned comedy for Radio 4 and official tie-in fiction for both ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘The Friday the Thirteenth’ franchises. He’s a really versatile writer whose varied output shows this dude really knows how to bust a twisted sentence or two. I reckon the debut novel was always an inevitability, and is certainly a welcome one. With this back-catalogue there’s also no surprise his first splash into fiction is pretty crazy, off the wall, and at times just a little bit scary. I would expect no less from an ex-‘Kerrang’ journalist….
Part comedy, part horror, and without giving too much away, ‘Jack Sparks’ is a relatively well known journalist and author who begins a new work of non-fiction, in which he intends to debunk the myth of the supernatural. He really doesn’t believe it at all, not even 1%, and intends to interview and take laugh at the saps he chooses to interview, as they’re all fake and deserve his derision. However, we find out right from the beginning that Jack is dead and that his estranged brother Alistair is releasing this final book which has been discovered on a lap-top. This is what we the readers are reading. There was obviously something very controversial about Jack’s death, but at this point we don’t know what it is. So the novel we are reading is effectively ‘a book within a book’. Alistair tells us in the prologue that Jack wrote his account as he was carrying out his research (convenient for us…) and that any profits from the book will go to charity…..
The ‘book within a book’ concept worked well enough, it reminded be a bit of the Sarah Lotz novel ‘The Three’ which did something similar and interestingly Lotz is thanked in the end credits. Early in the book Jack goes to witness what he believes to be a fake exorcism, even though it is being led be a very famous Italian exorcist. Jack of course doesn’t believe what he is seeing and laughs during the ceremony and there his problems begin. The novel uses the unreliable narrator to good effect, even the ‘editor’ himself is another unreliable narrator, so the ‘Last Days of Jack Sparks’ really blurs fact and fiction, which is all part of the fun. Bearing in mind we are reading his ‘account’ trust him as your pearl…. Actually, don’t trust anyone.
The novel had a fine balance between horror and comedy which brought a good few laughs, however, as the story developed some elements became tiresome as it became a tad repetitive. Every single reader realised Jack was heading into a world of pain good hundred pages before he realised it. For a journalist he sure was thick, but perhaps that was the denial of the addict he obviously was? It became frustrating as the bodies piled up, with garbled evidence, he still refused to believe, or did he? It all got a bit too messy for me. Sure, I accept this was the point of the book Jack was writing and he was off his rocker on drink and drugs and was failing to cope with reality. Indeed, his grasp on reality loosened as his drug use intensified. As the novel got more frantic, it lost the effectiveness it had in the first half. I found myself thinking that a novel that had started out good fun had become harder work than it should be, but maybe it was just me.
The creepy video which was uploaded onto Jack’s You Tube account was genuinely odd and freaky, especially as nobody could trace its origins, the idea that he read a book that predicted his death, only Jack hearing the names of the demons and the reappearance of the possessed Italian teenager were all good horror moments. But they all came in the first half of the novel and the pace was less effective in the second when he got bogged down with the American supernatural group and hot madder and madder. There was also a very funny scene when he meets the directors of The Blair Witch Project, who he asks if they made the video whilst they were having a quiet coffee. Later Roger Corman pops up and asks Jack whether he made the film, sensing a quick buck. A great scene, especially if you’re a Corman fan, which I am.
What will put many people off this book is the fact that Jack Spark was such an arsehole and most readers will not be disappointed by his comeuppance, or whatever you read into the ending. He was a deeply unpleasant character who was self centred in the extreme, however, there were nice glimpses beyond the arsehole façade, particularly with his flatmate Bex, who also features in his books. But Jack lived in social media land and I suppose that in some way created the beast that he became. All in all it was an entertaining read with much to recommend and a very strong moral message: never, ever laugh during an exorcism. Lots of very well known authors give high praise to this novel including: Chris Brookmyre, Sarah Lotz, Alan Moore, Chuck Wendig and the rather wonderful Paul Tremblay. I’ve already passed it onto a friend who I know will enjoy it!