Jokers Club – Gregory Bastianelli

From JournalStone Publishing comes the debut novel of Gregory Bastanelli. Bastanelli’s work has appeared previously in magazines like Black Ink Horror and Sinister Tales. Jokers Club draws from some very famous inspiration, are jokers wild or does this club not warrant admission? From the website/back cover:

Diagnosed with a brain tumor, Geoffrey returns to his hometown for a reunion of the Jokers Club (his childhood gang) with the hopes of unearthing the imagination he held in his youth. Upon arriving, he discovers the creative juices that drove his writing many years ago surround him: the tombstone salesman who chisels out names of the dead, the far-sighted barber with the bloodstained smock and the reclusive Tin Man, just to name a few.

Unfortunately Geoffrey’s tumor quickly worsens, bringing on blackouts and hallucinations where he encounters the spectral figure of a court jester who had been his muse as a child. The jester inspires Geoffrey’s work on his manuscript, fueling his writing at a ferocious pace. The dead and the living co-exist in the pages of Geoffrey’s story, in a town where time seems to be frozen in a past that still haunts the present.

When one of the gang is found dead it rattles not only his group of friends, but everyone begins to look at each other as possible suspects. Will the pounding growth in Geoffrey’s head be held at bay long enough for him to discover who is targeting his friends, or will the pages in his unfinished novel rewrite history?

Jokers Club draws heavily on Stephen King’s IT, almost from the opening paragraph. For my sanity, that’s the last comparison I’m going to draw about the two books. I tried to like this book – I wanted to like this book – but certain issues prevented my full enjoyment.

I’d like to start with the title, yes there are 6 members of the Jokers Club, but I can’t help being thrown off by the fact that it’s not “Jokers’ Club”. Might be small, but it looked weird to me. Moving into the characters, the story in present-day is told from Geoff Thorn’s perspective. Geoff is a writer down on his luck who visits his childhood hometown partly to re-discover his imagination, and partly because the Jokers Club is having a reunion. The brain tumor mentioned above doesn’t serve as a conduit for the reader’s sympathy, but rather the focal point of Geoff’s imagination. Geoff is designed to garner sympathy through his failures and inner turmoil, though this objective often falls short and the character seems rather whiny.

Oliver Rench is the leader of the Jokers Club, he’s portrayed as the successful asshole in present day, and the bossy kid with a lousy home life during flashbacks. Secrets are revealed about his character that make him a flawed, but worthy foil for Geoff.

Lonny Mudge is Oliver’s sidekick, a pitiful yes-man whose purpose is to serve Oliver, while providing the reader with a deeper insight into the pitfalls of Oliver’s life. Paul Woodman also plays a sidekick role, though his adult life is far more interesting. Martin Peak is by far the quietest of the group, and only becomes useful in the final chapters. Dale Carpenter is Geoff’s best friend, both in flashbacks and present day.

Bastianelli weaves between past and present tense rather effortlessly, using chapter breaks to indicate the changes. Both stories are accelerated as the book moves on, though the flashbacks tend to cover a greater period of time in order to catch the reader up. The inherent problem with this technique is that the past stories are far more interesting than those occurring in the present.

Jokers Club aims itself at fans of both mystery and horror, and while horror fans will draw similarities with that other book, the gore is well done and confined to proper use. The mystery element seems tacked on, and the ending reveal is telegraphed, though the final twist is still satisfying. Overall, the book left little impact on this reader, I’d recommend it only to those looking for a quick read with familiar ideas.

For more information on both Jokers Club and Gregory Bastianelli, visit the JournalStone website.

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