Book: “The Last Days of Jack Sparks” by Jason Arnopp
Publishing Info: Orbit, March 2016
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description: Jack Sparks died while writing this book. This is the account of his final days.
In 2014, Jack Sparks – the controversial pop culture journalist – died in mysterious circumstances.
To his fans, Jack was a fearless rebel; to his detractors, he was a talentless hack. Either way, his death came as a shock to everyone.
It was no secret that Jack had been researching the occult for his new book. He’d already triggered a furious Twitter storm by mocking an exorcism he witnessed in rural Italy.
Then there was that video: thirty-six seconds of chilling footage that Jack repeatedly claimed was not of his making, yet was posted from his own YouTube account.
Nobody knew what happened to Jack in the days that followed – until now. This book, compiled from the files found after his death, reveals the chilling details of Jack’s final hours.
Review: I’ve probably mentioned it before, but I don’t find stories about demonic possession particularly scary. I think that there are certainly elements to them that can be creepy, but movies like “The Exorcist” and “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”, while well done, don’t get my fear levels on the rise. The book “A Head Full of Ghosts” is probably my favorite exorcism related book, but even that one is filled with ambiguities instead of solid fact and over the top devilry. And then there is, of course, “My Best Friend’s Exorcism”, but that one is in it’s own little category since it’s so 80s candy coated and about the power of female friendship. So when I picked up “The Last Days of Jack Sparks”, I figured that it would at the very least be entertaining. Little did I know that I was going to be basically freaking out on an airplane while reading this book. And then once again while walking down a dark hallway at two in the morning days after the fact. Yep. “The Last Days of Jack Sparks” has sufficiently messed me up, y’all.
This story is built on the premise that notorious journalist Jack Sparks died while working on a new book, and that we are reading his writings around the time of his strange death. So right out the gate, we’re pretty certain that we are dealing with an unreliable narrator. Sparks is an established addict, narcissist, and sanctimonious prick, so having him as a narrator is maddening but also absolutely perfect. It’s made even better because throughout the book we are also given other perspectives from those that he interacts with, in footnotes from Sparks’ brother Alistair, transcripts of conversations, and personal diary entries. The moment that I realized that I really couldn’t trust anything that ANYONE was saying, it blew my mind. This set up made it all the more paranoia inducing, as I really didn’t know what to believe from anyone involved. It also made it so that clues that were given throughout the story could harken back in multiple formats and through multiple lenses, and seeing the puzzle pieces come together in different layers was mind boggling for me.
Sparks himself is a fabulous component to the story. Yes, he’s absolutely terrible for much of the narrative, as an egomaniacal, pretentious and abusive liar, but as he slowly starts to fall apart you see the other parts of him bit by bit, which makes him feel all the more human and relatable. I went in thinking that I was going to be just fine with him getting his comeuppance, but as he becomes more desperate and as his identities fall away I ended up being really attached him him, as rotten as he can be at times. I also liked other characters in this book, specifically Sherilyn Chastain, a combat magician who Sparks sort of teams up with on one of her cases involving a houseboat haunting in Hong Kong. She not only provided a centered and badass female voice in all of this, she was also a way for Arnopp to really delve into some deep philosophy about faith, belief, and the supernatural. While some of the other characters felt a little trope-y, such as Sparks’ love interest/flatmate Bex with her cool girl persona, I did feel that Arnopp had a place for each and every one of them.
And finally, this book is pretty darn scary. This is coming from a self professed snob when it comes to demon possession stories. I think that this one had a lot of other factors within it that made it feel unique from the others in the genre, and given that it also bent genres a bit into some science fiction principles it felt all the more creative. The imagery of a dark apartment with a silhouette in the corner is always going to set me on edge, and Arnopp really knows how to make this scenario complete and total nightmare fuel. His use of social media like youtube and twitter and things like that really gave it a modern horror flair as well, as while I was skeptical at him just describing a video would be scary, I was totally wrong. It was terrifying, especially since it totally sounded like one of those weird unexplained viral horror videos that pop up occasionally. I also really liked, and perhaps this is a bit spoilery so tread carefully, that the entire premise of this book is that the Devil (or whatever demon Sparks is dealing with) really hates having the spotlight taken off of him/it when on a serious dramatic tear.
“The Last Days of Jack Sparks” was a freaky and fun read that I cannot recommend enough. If it can make this skeptic towards the genre cheer, think of what it can do for those of you who always love your possession stories.
Rating 9: A tense, creepy, disturbing, and fresh feeling horror novel for the social media age. It had me on the edge of my seat and I think that it’s must read for horror fans.
“The Last Days of Jack Sparks” is included on the Goodreads lists “Unconventional, Seductive, Intelligent, and Dizzyingly Surreal”, and “Terrifying Tearjerkers”.
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