THE WOMAN FROM PRAGUE BY ROB HART

It’s a fact that no matter what, people change. Humans are a product of their experiences. The good things and the bad things all go into the messy, bitter stew of our souls. These are the things that make us the people that we are. This is also one of the biggest differences between real life people and the pop culture creations that we all like reading about. Fact-is-fact: After 76 years, Captain America is still Captain America. There may be controversial stories here and there, but at the end of the day, Cap will still be Cap. Fans have been reading about Jack Reacher kicking ass for 21 novels, with the comforting fact that the character is still the same coffee-chugging man of mystery no matter which installment they pick up.

Author Rob Hart has chosen a different row to hoe. Readers first met self-described “blunt instrument” Ash McKenna in 2015’s NEW YORKED. A cynical amateur PI who drifted through an existence of violence and chemical abuse, Ash really was a creature of pure ID. Forever tied to the city of his birth, the events of NEW YORKED forced him to leave his home. Just like an over-confident teen who thinks they’ve got the world on a string and then gets a hard lesson in life when they move away to school, the final page of Ash’s debut is when Hart’s creation begins to live, breathe, and grow.

But this review is about THE WOMAN FROM PRAGUE, so let’s talk about that.

After spending time tending bar at a strip club in the Pacific Northwest, then working as a cook at a hippie commune in the Deep South, Ash has become a citizen of the world and fallen in love with the city of Prague. He’s making a comfortable living working for Crash Hop, a business that rents out apartments for tourists and the like. And, proof that singing Johnny Cash songs with strangers in Eastern European clubs is the key to international relations, he’s even made a friend with a local independent filmmaker named Kaz. Things have settled into a nice rhythm for Ash, and he’s torn between spending more time in his new home, and returning to his old home and moving his stalled life forward.

Our angst-filled hero is almost… happy. (Side-note: if the city of Prague is powerful enough to touch the soul of Ash McKenna, then this reviewer may need to plan a trip.)

Ash is now much more than an Id. He’s aware of both himself as a person, and is looking to see where he fits into the rest of the world. Indeed, he’s even contemplating what sort of legacy he will leave behind. He’s realizing that his problems, and his life, can’t be solved solely with his fists.

As Ash is contemplating his pending return home, he meets Roman, a man claiming to be an agent of a secret US agency. There’s a task that Roman needs completed, and he needs Ash to get it done.  Roman wants Ash to intercept a delivery that the mysterious Samantha Sobolik is set to receive. At night. On a bridge. In a foreign city. The whole thing strikes Ash as ridiculously insane. But Roman knows all of Ash’s secrets from back in New York, and he is holding Ash in his thrall with the very real threat of attacking his mother back home. A choice of late-night espionage or risking his own mother is really no choice at all.

Barely surviving an ambush on the bridge, Ash and Samantha are forced to work together to survive.  Ash must first figure out who Roman really is, who Samantha really is, how to save his mother, and how to escape the web of intrigue he’s fallen into.

Over the course of four books, Hart has taken his signature creation from impulse, revenge driven blunt instrument to mature man of action. While still reveling in violence, Ash has learned to think beyond his immediate purview. Many authors are quick with the quips, and Hart is chief among them. As the mystery gets deeper and deeper, and the threat level rises and rises, Hart’s skill at turning a phrase has Ash cutting the tension at just the right moments. Ash isn’t telling jokes here. But the dark humor and cynical jabs work in perfect tandem with the rising action.

WOMAN FROM PRAUGE is a resounding smash as both a fast-paced summer read, as well as the slow and steady growth of one of the most well-rounded on-going characters on the shelf.

 

Dan Malmon