SOUTH VILLAGE By Rob Hart Reviewed

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October 11, 2016

Ash McKenna has become a traveling man.

SOUTH VILLAGE is Rob Hart’s third novel starring the unofficial private investigator who would rather hit a problem then talk out his feelings and motivations. Hitting problems is much easier than talking about them. A lifelong New Yorker who was forced to leave the only home he’s ever known at the conclusion of NEW YORKED, Ash next found himself working as a bouncer at a vegan strip club in Portland in CITY OF ROSE. Seeking an even greater change of scenery, Ash is now working as a cook on a commune in Georgia while waiting for his passport to arrive so he can head off to Europe. Ash is feeling pretty good, since this is the closest he’s had to having a plan in a long time.

It’s at this point that commune resident Crusty Pete falls off of a sabotaged rope bridge and ends up a crumpled corpse in the middle of South Village, Georgia. That’s right: our gruff and tough New Yorker has stumbled into a murder mystery set in the middle of a hippie commune.

Ash has his own problems to deal with. On the mental side, Ash is being plagued by the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the terminal events that took place in Portland which lead him to seek refuge in Georgia. At various times, Ash is overtaken by severe nausea and dizziness, not to mention horrific nightmares. But Ash’s physical ordeal has to do with the very realistic ramifications of “the tough guy who is self-medicating” with alcohol. Yeah, our boy Ash is in some real trouble. Ash is truly fighting a war with himself on two different fronts. In the hands of a less confidant author than Hart, Ash’s PTSD, addiction issues, and the murder mystery at the center of the book would be altogether too many moving parts to give proper attention and compassion to. But each revelation, each symptom, is revealed in an organic manner that reads honest and true.

But Ash isn’t in this alone. Aesop is the closest thing to a friend that Ash has right now. He’s the head cook on the commune who is showing Ash the way around a kitchen. Aesop is a pleasant fellow, who repeatedly reaches out to Ash and foolishly tries to have conversations with him. But, Ash is Ash. And that just ain’t happening. Life is a hard road to travel by yourself. And when you spend your time believing that you are better alone, you stop reaching out to your fellow man. But as the situation on the commune continues to get worse, Aesop proves to be invaluable in the investigation. Ash and Aesop are no Batman and Robin. But Hart again proves up to the task of slowly teaming these two tough guys together. Watching Ash’s wounded sense of self begin to heal is one of the most satisfying things I’ve read all year.

SOUTH VILLAGE reads like the conclusion of a trilogy, but Hart has announced the next book is finished and will be called THE WOMAN FROM PRAGUE.  But here in SOUTH VILLAGE, Ash is a completely different man here than the man we first met in NEW YORKED. A better man? Maybe. A healthier man? Absolutely. Hart has used the phrase “hippie noir” when referring to this book on social media. It sounds cool and catchy, but it’s hard to call a story full of hope and healing noir.

Call it whatever you want to. Just go out and buy it.


Dan Malmon