Hello Readers! Today is my stop during the blog tour for King of Hearts by Mark Stibbe, organized by Love Books Group Tours. Please check out book details and excerpt in this post.
It’s Christmas Eve and festive lights are guiding people home. Jake Graystone (44), however, is about to make the worst decision of his life. Bored by his job, and unable to provide for his wife and two sons, a chance meeting with a poker-playing friend in a local bar changes his life. Pete Marley (44) and Jake have known each other since school days. While Jake’s life has plateaued, Pete is wealthy and has everything. Three months before Christmas, he teaches Jake the art of poker – the chance to make money and have what he has. In the dimly lit bar, he whispers the secret of the cards.
Jake is now drawn into a world of gambling. Poker becomes his new life, as Sally (39), his long-suffering wife realises she is losing the man she loves. Jake’s poker addiction grows, along with his ability to read the playing cards and people. He soon becomes unbeatable. Jake cannot keep his secret forever, however, and when his wife finds out, there is a volcanic argument on Christmas Eve. Jake walks out on his family, gets into his car and heads north to Casino City with barely a thought for the people he is leaving behind.
In Casino City, prosperity comes with every deal of the cards. Jake is soon playing in high stakes tournaments. He has a special gift, not only for the game but also for reading his opponents. Days and nights are spent at the casino. It becomes Jake’s world of bright lights and easy money. In all the madness, he confides in a friendly Pit Boss. Father Jim (55) is a former priest who now works on the tables. An improbable friendship allows Jake to share his troubles with him.
Life is good for Jake until he is challenged to take part in the biggest stake game in town set up by the Mob. The scene is set. Winner takes all. As Jake takes his seat he is joined at the table by a tall and hauntingly thin man known as the Undertaker. Cards are dealt and in a crunch heads-up with the final turn of a card, Jake loses everything.
Now indebted to the Mob, Jake goes on the run. He is soon homeless. His first nights are spent hiding in an old Pentecostal Church, then on the streets, always watching out for the shadow of the Undertaker. There he meets Christine (27), who has been living rough since her dad died when she was ten. They form a strong friendship that melts away the hubris of his heart.
One night, Christine is walking with Jake down an icy street. The lights of a speeding limo come into view as Jake is frozen in its path. The Undertaker is in the driving seat. Without warning, Christine pushes Jake out of the way. Jake is devastated.
As the Christmas snow falls again, he stumbles into a diner frequented by truckers. Jake looks up to see Matt (30) a huge, black truck driver sat opposite him. They begin to talk. Matt says he is going south towards his town, his last call on Christmas Eve. He tells Jake that he will take him home. They walk out of the Diner together to his Coca Cola lorry. On the journey, Matt talks to Jake and Jake begins to come to his senses.
When Matt drops Jake off near his house, Matt and his truck disappear into the night.
Jake wraps a red rug around his shoulders and lugs a sack of presents, given by Matt, over his shoulder. It is now time for Jake, looking like a bedraggled Santa, to shuffle through the snow to the place he once lived.
It’s Christmas Eve and festive lights are guiding people home.
What will Jake find when he returns?
King of Hearts tells the gripping story of Jake Graystone, a struggling teacher, husband, and father, who looks for easy money playing poker. When his wife Sally exposes his secret addiction on Christmas Eve, he walks out and heads north for Casino City, leaving his family for a dark world of gambling, prostitution and murder.
How will the cards fall for Jake in this brutal, urban wasteland? And, as the stakes get higher and higher, will this modern Desperado ever come to his senses?
King of Hearts is a winter, festive story to sit alongside It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. Raw yet redemptive, it is a Christmas tale you’ll not be able to put down.
At the end of each chapter, you will want to twist, not fold.
Even during the worst moments of his life, Jake had never imagined that he would be living rough at Christmas. Now reality had begun to bite as fiercely as the frost. He was on the run in Casino City from a man who wanted blood – his blood. He had a killer behind him and nothing in front of him except the ashen clouds which loomed ahead, heavy with their payload of snow.
After twenty minutes, Jake was exhausted. Drops of sweat were falling from his glistening brow. He winced as their salt began to sting his bloodshot, squinting eyes. He slowed down to a brisk walk, his already blistering feet leaving deep impressions in the thickening snow that layered the pavements from the riverside to the city centre. He had less than twenty-four hours to find a haven in an unfamiliar urban landscape – somewhere hidden from the predatory eyes of the Undertaker.
Jake considered his options as he walked past unlit, decorated store fronts with posters advertising winter sales, and then veered into meandering alleyways. He could find a homeless shelter, except that he knew this would be the first place he would plan to search if he was the hunter, not the hunted. He could knock on the doors of high-rise tenements and suburban homes, begging for somewhere to stay until he fell on better times and could recompense his hosts for their philanthropy. But who would ever trust a desperate stranger such as him on Christmas Day? Jake knew that he would never have opened his home for someone else. Why would anyone do the same for him?
He considered the police, but he also knew that no self-respecting officer would ever allow him to take refuge in a cell. He could imagine some firm but kindly duty sergeant. ‘We are not in the practice of offering free bed and breakfast here, even at Christmas.’
For a moment Jake contemplated leaving the city, hailing a driver for a lift, but where would he go? He might find himself worse off than he was right now – roaming icy fields and country lanes with only the hope of some broken shack or dilapidated barn for shelter. That, he knew, meant probable death – and death was what he was trying to evade. No, Jake had run out of options and he knew it.
Buy Link: https://amzn.to/340M7qO
Mark Stibbe, “An acclaimed Christian author,” New York Times.
Mark started writing when he was very young, publishing his first book – an anthology of poetry entitled The Drawing out of Days – when he was just 17. Since then, he has been a prolific author and professional writer, with over 50 books published, and countless articles in broadsheet newspapers, journals and magazines. One of his most successful recent books has been Home at Last, offering a faith-based journey of recovery for those who were deeply affected by the trauma of being sent away to boarding school. He has also ghost written over thirty books, of many different genres.
In 2013, Mark migrated from writing nonfiction to fiction and this resulted in the co-authored historical spy thriller The Fate of Kings and now his debut, single-authored novel, King of Hearts, a raw but redemptive Christmas tale in the tradition of A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. In early 2020, as the official storyteller for the award-winning Arokah Puzzle Game, he and Steve Brazier, the inventor of the puzzle, will publish the first in a series of Sci Fi Fantasy novels based around Arokah and starring Khali, an autistic, mixed-race hero. These are aimed at the 9-13 age group.
Mark runs BookLab with his wife Cherith, a company dedicated to equipping aspiring writers to become great authors. He is a frequent and much in-demand speaker at workshops for writers and conferences in which the subjects of his books are featured. He has often been interviewed on BBC (Radio and TV), Channel 4 and other media, and writes articles for The Times. Having been brought up by an adoptive father who dined fortnightly with CS Lewis, his whole life has been devoted to books and to writing. He lives in Kent with his wife Cherith and their Black Labrador, Bella.
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