Ex-action movie star Jack Palms seems to find himself “in it” quite a bit. When we last saw Jack in series opener Jack Wakes Up, he had barely managed to extricate himself from between a rock and a hard place in the middle of a Bay Area drug war.
As we catch up with Jack in This Is Life, he has just returned home after a long cross country motorcycle trip he used to clear his head and get back on track. Unfortunately for Jack, his attempt to pursue a low key life is about to be derailed once again. While standing in his living room on the night of his homecoming contemplating the charred remains of his bed that awaited him upon his return, someone takes a shot at Jack through his patio door. He gives chase, but is only able to catch a glimpse of the shooter’s car as it speeds away.
Jack heads to SFPD headquarters the following morning to report the incident to his frenemy Sergeant Mills Hopkins, but instead of taking his report Hopkins recruits Jack to look into the killing of an SFPD officer. Turns out the officer was involved in questionable activity, and someone high up in SFPD bureaucracy doesn’t seem to want the crime solved and is hampering the investigation. How other than a cover-up to explain an official report of “suicide” for a corpse whose head was nearly obliterated by what was obviously a .50 caliber anti-tank gun based on the other holes that riddle the vehicle? This doesn’t sit well with Hopkins, who wants Jack to use his hard earned recent experience of how to work the angles between warring factions to get to the bottom of things.
Upon accompanying Hopkins to the scene of the officer’s murder, Jack is shocked to discover the body sitting behind the wheel of the same car he saw speeding away from his house. Further complicating things, the body of a young woman whose throat was cut is in the back seat of the car, though the lack of blood clearly indicates the woman was killed elsewhere. Who was she, where was she killed, how was the officer involved, and how is Jack supposed to solve a crime that people at the highest level of the SFPD don’t want solved?
Enlisting the help of friend and former NFL lineman Freeman Jones, Jack begins an investigation that soon uncovers a high-stakes sex ring run by Alexi Akakievich, a Russian drug dealer who has weaseled his way into the upper echelons of San Francisco’s political and business communities. Jack isn’t the only one looking into things, however, and soon runs afoul of the FBI when he inadvertently blunders into their ongoing investigation. So much for the simple life, as Jack once again must do the best acting of his life in order to save his life.
Yet despite his best efforts – and a lot of bullets and bodies – Jack finds himself in a precarious position at the end of This Is Life, with not all questions answered or loose ends wrapped up.
Fortunately for readers, Czechmate picks up where This Is Life leaves off, literally, which is why I’ve reviewed the two together. (There’s simply no way you can not go right into Czechmate considering how things get left at the end of This Is Life.)
Still caught in the crosshairs of a very angry and powerful Russian mobster, Jack sees the arrival of some unexpected help when Czechs Vlade, Niki and Al make a return appearance from series opener Jack Wakes Up. Seems they have their own ax to grind against Alexi, and along with them and newly made allies SFPD Officer Shaw and FBI Agent Jane Gannon, Jack decides to play a little offense this time around and take the fight to Alexi. So where This Is Life moved at a somewhat moderate pace in order to lay the groundwork for that book and Czechmate, in this outing Jack hits the ground running and never looks back.
He can’t afford to, as it’s not only his life at stake this time. Jack’s racing against the clock to save the remaining young women in Alexi’s sex stable before Alexi decides to kill off all the “evidence” now that things have started to crumble around him. Jack’s also still being dogged by interference from people in positions of power in both San Francisco politics and law enforcement, people who have a personal interest in Alexi’s operation – and client list – not being exposed.
While unquestionably brimming with action, the series does also show a clear development and progression of Jack’s character as he evolves from a (somewhat) innocent bystander caught up in violent circumstances not of his making to a man who understands that in order to fight scum you have to be willing to get down in the gutter and get dirty. And Czechmate gets pretty damn dirty, with the climatic finale devolving into a truly graphic and brutal showdown, in which author Seth Harwood pulls no punches and guarantees no one safe haven.
I, on the other hand, guarantee you’ll enjoy the hell out of This Is Life and Czechmate… just don’t get too attached to any of the characters.