Ashley (Ash) McKenna is a man molded and driven by ideas. As a boy growing up on Staten Island, Ash would sit with his firefighter father in the wee hours of the night listening to the emergency scanner, his dad patiently explaining to him what all the mysterious calls and codes meant.
Watching his father go to work, both as scheduled and spontaneously in response to some of those emergency calls, Ash formed strong ideas of duty, honor, and responsibility. And when his father was killed on 9/11 while attempting to evacuate people on the upper floors of the World Trade Center, Ash was branded with the idea of sacrifice. And loss.
So when Ash pulls himself up out of the depths of a blackout drunk one afternoon only to learn that his longtime friend and unrequited love, Chell, has been murdered, his whole world comes crashing down around him.
The loss he feels is complicated and compounded by the message he finds from Chell on his cell phone, apparently left only minutes before her death. She’d reached out to Ash for help, begged him to come meet her because she was only streets away from his apartment and feared she was being followed, and Ash failed—failed to meet his self-appointed responsibility to protect her.
Ash can’t live with that. And he won’t let whoever murdered Chell live with it, either.
And with that setup, author Rob Hart’s debut, New Yorked, is off and running on a relentless hunt through the boroughs of New York City in Ash’s take-no-prisoners quest to bring Chell’s killer to justice, or Ash’s version thereof, and to bring peace of mind to himself. Not a fan of guns, Ash carries with him nothing more than his fists, wits, a deceptively benign umbrella, and an unshakable will to do right by Chell. Along the way, Ash bounces from one colorful character to another—Ginny, the cross-dressing crime Queenpin; The Hipster King, who’s more dangerous than the deliberately ironic title might imply; a community of noir live action role players, who are involved in a very dangerous “game”—some friend, some foe, some frustratingly nebulous as to how they fit into the puzzle Ash is trying to solve.
And if New Yorked were nothing more than the story of a man trying to solve a whodunnit it would still be an entertaining read given the level of detail Hart has devoted to the setting and surroundings. But New Yorked is more than that. Hart deftly weaves the evolution of Ash and Chell’s relationship into the narrative by way of flashbacks, and it soon becomes clear Ash is a man carrying around a lot of anger—over his unfulfilled relationship with Chell, about the events that ripped his father from him, at the changes he sees occurring in his beloved city as it moves from mysterious and alive to sterile and gentrified. It’s an anger Ash has allowed to creep up on and rule his life, driving him to abuse both substances and those around him, while at the same time acting as a yoke that has anchored his life in a stunted rut.
Between the anger, the addiction, and the occasional bad behavior toward someone who doesn’t deserve it, Ash is not exactly a classic knight in shining armor. But neither do his flaws rise to the level of self-pity or distraction. Instead, Hart has created in Ash a character whose life and struggles mirror the evolution taking place in the city itself, both forced to deal with changes that are often unpleasant and unwanted. Sometimes change is neither good nor bad, both bad and good. What change always is, however, is inevitable. And as Hart skillfully demonstrates in New Yorked, it’s fantastically interesting as well.
New Yorked is available from Polis Books (978-1940610405).