For me ‘The Last Days of Jack Sparks’ was a trip down memory lane; if that lane were full of impending doom, drugged up protagonists, horrific events and well…the supernatural. It’s a trip I really enjoyed taking again. And the memories of everything I used to love so much about the genre came flooding back. My following of horror has waned over the last 10 years mainly due to the rehashing of common clichés, remakes of films when there is no need and a dearth of ‘Found Footage’ films which seem to come out every week since the Blair Witch Project (1999) first brought this to our screens eighteen years ago. Having said this we are talking about a book – and what an ingenious book it is, so lets get on with it.
‘The Last Days of Jack Sparks’ is the debut novel from accomplished writer and contributor of short fiction (novellas) to a number of hugely popular science fiction and horror series such as ‘Dr. Who’ and ‘Friday the 13th’. If this wasn’t enough Arnopp has also fitted in time to hone his skills as a journalist, whilst also writing the screenplay for the 2011 horror film ‘Stormhouse’. He also finds the time to collect old horror VHS, why do I say this? You’ll soon find out…
It’s from this deep love of the horror genre that Jason Arnopp creates the unforgettable ‘Last Days of Jack Sparks’ as well as his protagonist Jack Sparks; which I couldn’t help but think was a projection of Arnopp himself (with a small slice of Ash from the Evil Dead series thrown into the mix). Jack Sparks is arrogant, misogynistic and holding on to some thread that the world owes him something but you can’t help but form a bond with him.
As mentioned above I was a huge horror fan growing up and when I say huge it was literally the only genre I’d watch; one fond memory I have is rummaging through VHS tapes in a mouldy, smoke filled shop in Hanwell (West London) trying to find obscure titles deep within the bargain bin. Some of my personal favourites that I found myself reminiscing about when reading ‘The Last Days of Jack Sparks’ were; ‘The Entity’ (1982), ‘The Evil Dead’ (1981), ‘The Evil Dead 2’ (1987), ‘Poltergeist’ (1982), ‘The Exorcist’ (1973), ‘The Omen’ (1976), ‘The Amityville Horror’ (1979) and ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ (1984). It wasn’t that Jack Sparks didn’t hold my attention, it was the sheer horror fan in me. But it also shows Arnopp’s skill as a writer as he incorporates the conventions and mise-en-scene of the genre he’s so passionate about with aplomb.
The book has a fabulous opening chapter that had my heart beating and blood pumping straight from the off. The tension Arnopp deploys here is what you’d normally associate with a horror film; the setting of the scene, the introduction of characters, the ramping up of the tension before something sinister happens. Fade to black. Film title ‘The Last Days of Jack Sparks’. It’s visual storytelling at it’s best, the book has a real cinematic feel (I am quietly confident a film of this book will be made shortly – if not someone should gain the rights). It’s clear to see Arnopp is a fan of the genre who is well equipped to deal with the dark underbelly that this book possesses (pun not intended).
‘At the centre of the house in which my late brother Jacob and I grew up, there was a black hole.
That’s what we called it. In reality, it was a small room born of inexplicable architectural design. A roughly square space, right in the middle of a suburban Suffolk bungalow. No lights, windows or ventilation. No bigger than two department store changing rooms pushed together. Three doors led in and out.
Our mother made a virtue of this pointless junction box, as was her way, and hammered a coat rack to one of the walls in there. So it became the cloakroom.
Jacob, who would rise to fame and infamy as Jack Sparks, shared my instinctive fear of the word ‘cloak’. Cloaks covered people, rendering them sinister, and so you dread of that room deepened. Calling it ‘the black hole’ had actually made it less intimidating. Something science could explain.
The cloakroom was a place we took special measures to avoid. We would take the long route around every time – anything rather than having to enter that stale pocket of black. As you hurried through, your pulse would gallop. You’d gasp or even cry out as you mistook a prickle on the nape of your neck for the cold breath of the dead and gone.’
We read further and discover as the title suggests that this book is in fact the last days of Jack Sparks. Jack Sparks was working on this book before tragic and horrific events transpired which mean instead of reading the book as a memoir we are instead reading Jack Sparks obituary. ‘Jack Sparks on the Supernatural’ the title of the book he’s working on hopes to debunk the myths and theories around the supernatural, ghosts and exorcisms. One of Jack Sparks first points of call is to a small village in Italy where he meets Father Di Stefano who invited him to watch an exorcism of Maria Corvi a young girl who is being tormented by an evil spirit. Jack Sparks attends her exorcism with all the brashness you’d associate with Ash from the Evil Dead (just think of Ash reciting or not reciting the chant in ‘Army of Darkness’ and you’ll have a good idea) laughing at the whole situation and causing a mockery of this spiritual and supernatural event.
You’d think that it would be quite difficult to bring something new to this over possessed (pun intended) genre what with the new Exorcist television series (2016), The Exorcist films (1973-2005), The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), Devil Inside (2012), The Rite (2011), The Possession (2012), The Last Exorcism (2010), Stigmata (1999) etc., and especially to write something visually challenging, when it would seem that every eight-year-old in the country has watched ‘The Exorcist’ or ‘Insidious’ or other adult rated films, when you hear exorcism you think Regan from the exorcist don’t you? Jason Arnopp though brings something fresh and modern to the table blending superbly science fiction, horror, and the supernatural that will haunt and play on your mind long after the book is finished.
One of the modern twists Arnopp weaves though the book is his obsession or his alter ego Jack Sparks’ obsession with social media; many times throughout the book this crops up and it’s this that I feel will reach out to a whole new target audience; I also found myself looking up the Jack Sparks website and other Easter eggs that are mentioned throughout the book which made me feel like reading one of those fantasy novels where you have to roll dice and turn to other pages but this time I was turning to websites and checking links etc. I enjoyed it, but this middle section of the book seemed a little bogged down with his social media experiments and his friend Bex arrival in America.
‘Social media means never having to wonder how new contacts will look. Astral looks exactly as he does on YouTube, Tsu, Facebook, Google+, Gaggle, Goodreads, Pintrest, Kwakker, Reddit, Switcha Pitcha, Spring.me, Skype, Ello, HelloYou, Zoosk, Whatsapp, Wikipedia, WordPress, Quora, Kik, Uplike, MySpace, MyLife, MSN, Blogspot, Badoo, Bebo, Academia.edu, About.me, App.net, Itsmy, Instagram, Influenster, Twitter, Yumbler, Telegram, TripAdvisor, Flickr, Flixster, Friendster, Foursquare, Line, Last.fm, LinkedIn, LiveJournal, StumbleUpon, Streetlife, Spotify, Slated, VaVaVoom, Viber, Vimeo, Vine, Vig, Classmates, Match, PlentyOfFish, OkCupid, eHarmony, ChristianMingle and no doubt Tinder and/or Grindr.’
The final third of the novel is a cross between the Exorcist, Carrie and a Slasher film; trust me if that sounds crazy you just need to read the book. The pacing ramps up with each subsequent chapter by the time you realise your almost at the end of the book; a couple of times especially when the team are at Big Coyote Studio; things go bat shit crazy and I had to remind myself to breath, the tension and action are so well paced, enabling Arnopp to let his skills as a raconteur take over and his panache for horror to run wild; making you fully immersed in this terror filled moment.
Arnopp keeps the best till last with his grand reveal, which will leave some people thinking what the fudge just happened and the other group standing in appreciation; I myself were in the latter group (although I was seated) toasting his reveal with a big cup of coffee. My mind literally hurt seeing all the interlinking nuances (clues) Arnopp intelligently weaves throughout the book fall into place and shows his skills as a writer. It had me thinking back to when I watched ‘Memento’ (2000) for the first time.
It’s a book that I’d recommend to any fans of horror, to coin a phrase from an unknown source Arnopp’s book is ‘a new breed of Horror’ that is written in such a way that you can’t help but appreciate it’s beauty in the supernatural and macabre.
But more importantly than recommending this book, I’d recommend Jason Arnopp. I’m still struggling with the fact that ‘The Last Days of Jack Sparks’ is his debut novel. His mastery of the genre is up there with the likes of James Herbert, Clive Barker and Stephen King. He is a writer who’s not afraid to push boundaries with his fiction, turning conventions on their heads and in doing so creating his own sub genre in the process. Jason Arnopp I was pleased to discover is a champion of the short story which automatically endears him to mine and STORGY Magazine hearts.
He’s a writer we will be watching closely in 2017 when we hear his second novel will be arriving…and we recommend you follow him too.
Jason Arnopp is a British author and scriptwriter, with a background in journalism.
He wrote the Lionsgate feature film Stormhouse, various Doctor Who things, a Friday The 13th novel and script-edited the 2012 Peter Mullan film The Man Inside.
The Last Days of Jack Sparks was published by Orbit Books on 28th July 2016
To discover more about Orbit Books click here…
Review by Ross Jeffery
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