SHAKE CITY is the fourth novel in the Jack McCoul series. Jack lives in the Mission district of San Francisco. A former con man, Jack has gone straight. He is married, has two children and a best friend. He also has an ongoing semi-antagonist in police lieutenant Terry Dolan. Terry still carries a torch for Jack’s wife and enters and exits the narratives, sometimes bringing caustic comments, sometimes bringing actual help.
In SHAKE CITY Jack is a congenial landlord to a stripper enrolled in the local community college, doing her best to become a successful American citizen. He befriends another neighbor, a Syrian who operates a shoe store and has some hidden abilities that come into play at the precise moment when they are particularly needed. An additional neighbor who makes payday loans and ships immigrants’ money back to Mexico is murdered. It quickly becomes clear that a developer is trying to make a move on Jack’s street, squeezing and intimidating tenants, raising rents and, in general, trying to acquire the entire set of parcels for a lucrative project. In short, the novel’s subject is the city itself in changing economic times, with abused immigrants, vast discrepancies in wealth (the Silicon Valley types remain a shadowy but real presence throughout the story) and a continuing set of earthquakes (rising to the 5’s on the Richter scale) that give the book its title and offer a physical metaphor for the economic realities rippling through the city.
When Jack’s friend/spiritual brother Hark is framed for murder Jack springs into action to save him. Fortunately, he is able to enlist the city’s top defense lawyer, Cicero Broadshank, on Hark’s behalf. (Cicero loves a nice slab of prime rib and has one of the best tag names since Henry James’s triple tag-named Fanny Assingham.)
The result is a lively, engaging narrative of brothers in arms, coupled with a paean to the city itself, complete with a memorable trip to a Giants’ game. I love the characters—all of the aforementioned plus Wonder Boy, the stuttering savant/informant/bartender who knows everything that is going on in the city at any moment. This is not an ensemble cast as in, e.g., the Andrew Vachss Burke novels, but a charming assemblage of individuals in Jack McCoul’s fascinating orbit.
I recommend all of the McCoul novels. SHAKE CITY is a fitting addition to the series.