Friday, May 8, 2009

Review: "Jack Wakes Up" by Seth Harwood

Originally Published at Freshly Ground on May 7th 2009

To celebrate Seth Harwood's novel Jack Wakes Up being released into bookstores across the USA this week, I took it upon myself to listen to the entire podcast over the past two days and throw out my thoughts on it.
Jack Wakes Up is a bit of a step away from my usual cup of tea, being a crime novel and not in the slightest bit fantasy, horror, or science fiction. But it stood out to me, as crime fiction goes, in that the protagonist was not a cop or an ex-marine, but rather a washed-up actor.

Jack Palms has been on the wagon after his drug- and alcohol-fueled fall from grace some years earlier, which saw his marriage fall apart under the watching eyes of the public and the media. He's now cleaned himself up but is completely broke. A dodgy character from his past life entices him into doing one last big drug deal to set himself up for a while and make a new start.

As Jack gets drawn deeper into San Francisco's shady underworld, however, things quickly go from bad to worse.

Jack Wakes Up would fall somewhere between Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and 2 Fast 2 Furious, were it to have been a film. There are drug deals, murders, gun fights, car chases, betrayals, and strip bars - everything you expect from a high-octane, fast-paced action story.

This was fun to listen to. In the world of action storytelling, JWU was an invigorating tale, a cracking good yarn with plenty of good laughs thrown in. If my impression is that this was perhaps a bit lighter than Harwood intended, it's only because last night I also finished listening to Scott Sigler's Nocturnal, which completely blew me away (and will be reviewed very shortly, I promise). By comparison, JWU was good relief.

The audio production was clean and uncluttered. Harwood obviously made a choice not to use any sound effects (or if he did, they were so well done that I didn't even notice them), and relied on his own delivery to carry the pace of the story. There is no music or atmos in the soundtrack apart from chapter breaks, but I don't think the production suffered for this at all. The writing itself is tidy and precise, and Harwood's diction is mostly faultless (apart from the occasional stumble which hasn't been edited out), so following the story is never an issue.

I played this podcast through my computer speakers in a busy workshop, and was very rarely either a) unclear as to what was going on, or b) suddenly aware that I had lost the thread. I was kept engaged throughout the reading, even with distractions, and always felt like I knew what was going on and where the characters were. This is a testament to Harwood's writing and delivery, since this podcast is really just the author reading his own story, with all the passion he can muster.

Nice one.

Overall I rate Jack Wakes Up at 4 Stars.

Recommended to anyone who likes a good gangster or crime story, or a bit of action. Jack Wakes Up is complete at 19 Chapters, plus a Q&A with Seventh Son author JC Hutchins, which is both entertaining and informative.

You can listen to the first chapter here. The rest of the podcast can be found at Harwood's website, totally free. The book is also available in US bookstores and online.

While we're talking about Seth Harwood, he has posted a really helpful video about how to go about recording a podcast, which I also recommend for the three minutes it'll take you, if that sounds like something you might be thinking about.

Jack Wakes Up is available from, and can be found in bookstores across the USA.

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