Saturday, October 22, 2011

100 Books 58 - Seth Harwood's JACK PALMS II - THIS IS LIFE

Damn, but I think Seth Harwood would be a lot of fun to drink with. Ditto for the character that first made Harwood famous, Jack Palms, washed-up action movie star, sometime hustler, trouble magnet, and, in this, his second adventure, the guy the San Francisco cops turn to when things seem too dirty for them to handle (which means, in case you're wondering, that things are very dirty indeed).

Get a few beers or scotches in either one and I bet you're in for an evening of wild-ass stories. They might not be totally plausible stories, but they'll sure as hell be entertaining.

For this second Jack Palms outing, Harwood works more explicitly with a conceit that was only subtly present in the first one, Jack Wakes Up: that an actor, more or less playing a role, can stand in for the real thing when he has to. In Jack Wakes Up, though, Jack was playing a movie star, trading on his fame and what goodwill movie fans still had for him after his time in the tabloids (drug addiction, public ugliness with a pretty wife, etc.) to smooth the way for a complicated drug deal that wound up going wrong. He winked at bouncers, flirted with bartenders, showed the out-of-towners a good time in San Francisco, and juked his way out of crisis after crisis, all the while trying desperately to hold on to his hard-won health and sobriety.

This time around, though, Jack is having to play the role he played in his movie: a rough, tough Dirty Harry type. He has to act like a cop. And he gets in way over his head. As the title says, this is life: the guns, the bullets, the criminals and corrupt cops are all real.

I'm not sure I buy the premise that San Francisco's finest, even when desperate to exact justice/revenge for the death of one of their (corrupt) own, would resort to having a has-been actor* take the case when their hands get jurisdictionally tied, but I wound up not caring about that too much as I got sucked in to another intricate, messed up, tough, violent and shocking tale -- mostly, as always, by Harwood's care with the language. This is a guy who wants to get it right, a craftsman with his prose, and doesn't this reader appreciate that!

Harwood takes care, too, to keep us in Jack's head: he's an actor playing a role, and he's not firing blanks this time; the fights have not been choreographed, his dialogue has not been scripted. It's all improv, baby -- and sometimes Jack doesn't really know what to do, which verisimilitude (and again, craft in conveying it) more than makes up for the far-fetchedness of the premise that's landed him where he is. "This is the time, as he sees it, and there's nothing to do but act on what's here."

Plus, well, the action. As in prior books, the action is intense and incredible, and again, reminiscent of a good video game, complete with characters tossing away depleted weapons and taking up new ones. Jack winds up wielding every kind of firearm imaginable before the book is done, with varying degrees of success -- and quite a body count!

Now. Here's the interesting bit. As I mentioned in a prior post about Harwood, this guy is more than a bit of a maverick. He gives away his fiction first, in the form of free audiobooks over at Podiobooks, and releases it as ebooks and paperbacks later. This post of mine concerns the original ebook version of This is Life, but very soon, via a wonderfully successful Kickstarter campaign (and you'd better believe it, I'm a backer), a brand new edition of the book is coming out. And I'll be reading that new version -- and all the other stuff Harwood has in the pipeline -- just as soon as it lands in my greedy little hands. I'm a Palms Momma for life.

And the funny thing is, before I encountered Harwood, I didn't read crime fiction!

*Though as William Shatner says in a certain recent song, "Has-been... might again!"

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