Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 5, 2022

When Jokers Were Kings (2022), by John Tesarsch

My reading this week has been rather sombre so I was pleased to have a light-hearted comic novel for reading in bed.  When Jokers Were Kings, as you can tell from the clever cover design, is about an Elvis impersonator, and it’s very funny.

Romantic comedy is a complete departure from John Tesarsch’s previous literary fiction novels (The Philanthropist, The Last Will and Testament of Henry Hoffman, on my TBR and my favourite, Dinner with the Dissidents, which was shortlisted for the Colin Roderick Award. But like Toni Jordan’s rom-coms for the thoughtful reader, When Jokers Were Kings has its serious side too.  Set against the backdrop of the recent banking royal commission and brutal retrenchments in that industry, the novel raises questions of integrity at the corporate and individual level, while also revealing the dreariness of doing a job that offers no fulfilment.

When Engelbert (Bertie) Jones wows the audience at the bank’s Christmas party with his heartfelt Elvis impersonation, it sets him on a path towards forging a new identity.  With a body much like Elvis’s in his (a-hem) later years, and a mother who treats him like a child, Bertie struggles to be a romantic hero, that is, until Jasmine a.k.a. Jazz runs into cancel culture with her Michael Jackson tribute show.

Via the road trip from Hell in a vintage Cadillac of dubious provenance, Bertie’s tour of country Victoria runs into all kinds of difficulties, but love and laughter triumph in the end.

I wasn’t familiar with Bertie’s debut song ‘Kentucky Rain’ from 1969, so I found it on You Tube… and here it is:

Released with great timing for the Baz Luhrmann’s biopic, When Jokers Were Kings is perfect for Elvis fans, and anyone who enjoys a comic novel.

Author: John Tesarsch
Title: When Jokers Were Kings
Cover design by Alissa Dinallo
Publisher: Affirm Press, 2022
ISBN: 9781922626844, pbk., 280 pages
Source: Review copy courtesy of Affirm Press.


  1. That does look fun, I’m glad you’ve had something lighter to balance things out (I’m reading Hood Feminism and a slightly peculiar book about a guy from India reclaiming his British country house at the same time in a similar move!).


    • Really, that sounds like a hoot! Can’t wait for your review!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great to be comment with Elvis singing in the background. Not my favourite, but I didn’t like Elvis at all when I was at school (I was a mod, not a rocker) but came to enjoy his early rock n roll.
    I like thoughtful (I like silly so I hope I come across this one.


    • *chuckle* I wrote this review with Elvis in the background, you know how YouTube just rolls over to the next thing their algorithm selects. If I ever looked at Facebook properly, I’d probably find they were now advertising Elvis tours of Graceland!


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