NEW YORKED By Rob Hart
Like the city it’s named for, Rob Hart’s debut novel NEW YORKED can be seen as many things to many people. Visiting the city for the first time, a tourist may be overcome with anxiety or fear with the possibility of being mugged, or otherwise attacked. That same visitor could then be struck with awe and reverence while visiting the Statue of Liberty. While at the same time, a resident would go about their day with a ho-hum, same old same old type attitude. Been there, done that, dude. This is my home. No biggie.
It’s all in what your experiences bring to the table. NEW YORKED is very much like this. Ashley (“Ash” to his friends) McKenna is a lifelong resident of New York City. Page One-Scene One-Paragraph One sets the table for what we need to know about Ash, and also sets the whole train rolling on the overall mystery of the story:
Ash awakens from a blackout drunk in his apartment.
No idea what where he was last night.
No idea what he did last night.
Reaching for his phone, Ash sees he has the words “YOU PROMISED” written on his palm. With no idea what that means, he checks his three voicemails. The first message is from his sometimes girlfriend Chell saying that she’s still mad at him, but she thinks she’s being followed and she needs him to meet her so she can get home ok. The second message is a hang-up.
The third is from his friend Bombay…telling Ash that Chell is dead.
The expression “hits the ground running” gets tossed around a lot. Rob Hart just proved he’s a master at it. Hart sets the stage as quickly as possible, getting Ash out of his apartment and on the road to reconstructing the lost events of last night. As Ash attempts to put the pieces together, the reader gets taken on an insider’s guide to New York. The New York that only those who are from the City, those that wear that badge proudly, know about. The locals who despise Starbucks, the locals that look down on gentrification and all it brings. And let’s not even start on the evils of hipsters and what they’ve done to Brooklyn. Questionable fashion aside, hipsters make everything just too damn expensive.
Making contact with friends, acquaintances, drinking buddies, and drug connections, Ash learns that on top of it all, a turf war is brewing. The various neighborhoods are broken into fiefdoms, all controlled by leaders who approve gang actions and work out deals with the local authorities. Ginny Tonic is an old school friend of Ash’s. He runs errands and the like for her for extra cash. Of course, back in school, Ginny was just a shy boy trying to get through the day. Now a cross-dressing mob boss, Ginny Tonic is a powerful friend who tosses work Ash’s way as needed. With word the Hipster King in Brooklyn is making inroads into Ginny’s territory, she’ll be calling in those favors she’s done for Ash. Things are going to get messy. As Ash takes stock of the various players, things will get positively weird as well. Buried in it all is someone who knows what happened the night Chell was killed. All Ash has to do is find that someone and then make them pay.
NEW YORKED is filled with an amazing cast of characters who weave their way in and out of the story. From Ash’s wide-eyed cousin Margo, who is visiting the City while checking out schools, to Bombay, one of Ash’s oldest friends and allies, who seems to be the only one who sees the road to self-destruction Ash is walking. If only he would listen, you know?
With so many layers to the story, NEW YORKED can be enjoyed as a traditional murder mystery, a statement on the changing idea of just what New York is and what it means to the people who live there, or even a biting observational piece on the lengths people will go to match their identity to their surroundings.
Rob Hart has created a masterful debut. I kept running it though my brain long after I had read the last page. This is a book that sticks with you. And that really is the best compliment I can think of.