When Staten Island-based author Rob Hart roamed the streets of Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, several years ago, he decided to use the historic city as the backdrop of a crime novel that he titled “The Woman from Prague.”
The Friends of the East Meadow Public Library’s Mystery Book Club hosted Hart at its Czech Bohemian Reception on Nov. 16. Leah Canzoneri, the book club organizer, chose Hart’s novel as one of three mystery or crime novels for November after meeting him at an event in New York City. The crowd of readers thumbed through the novel, the fourth in a series, published by Polis Books, that follows the life of amateur private investigator Ash McKenna. The Boston Globe called the novel “a hot summer read,” while Publishers Weekly praised the “…fascinating relationship between the central characters, and superb atmosphere.” The first novel in the series, “New Yorked,” published in 2015, was nominated for an Anthony Award, a literary award for mystery writers.
“He basically gets beat up a lot throughout the book,” Hart said. “He makes some mistakes, and some discoveries.”
“The Woman From Prague” follows McKenna after he flees New York for Prague to escape problems that Hart has developed throughout the series. While in Prague, McKenna becomes entangled in a complicated and deadly mission when he is forced to intercept a package during a mysterious exchange between a woman and an assassin.
“Nothing in this book is what it seems,” Hart explained. “Things go wrong quickly.”
The novel, which was published this summer, features strong female characters, which Hart said assume alpha roles, though they do not appear in the first three novels in the series, “New Yorked,” “City of Rose” (2016) and “South Village” (2016).
“You created a list of powerful and strong characters overall,” Susan Rosenzweig, a Mystery Book Discussion member, observed. “But I really liked the females in this book. It was empowering to read about the women — who were so funny and tough — not being treated like damsels in distress, waiting for the male characters to save them.”
“Ash is a quirky character,” Hart responded. “He feels like he has to prove himself even more because his name is Ashley. There are definitely underlying tones of macho men seemingly trying to hide their sensitive side.” That juxtaposition, Hart said, allows the female characters to shine even more.
Rosenzweig, who belongs to several of the library’s adult reading groups, said that “The Woman From Prague” sparked her interest in reading the rest of the series, especially after meeting Hart. Several club members purchased copies of the book — which he assured can be read as a stand-alone novel — while a few bought the entire series.
“This is one of the many services that the library offers that go unnoticed,” Rosenzweig said. “Lea picks amazing books each month, and she tries her best to get authors to come out here and talk to us about their work. I learn a lot, and I’m sure the rest of the people who support these book groups learn a lot, too.”
Hart revealed that his next — and last — Ash McKenna novel will be set on Staten Island, and will touch on the heroin epidemic, which has made headlines on Long Island and around the country. It will be released by Polis Books next July.
“It’s a topic that hits close to home for many people, including myself,” Hart said. “Although this series is fictional, the information that I researched and included in the book is completely nonfictional. I think a lot of the scenarios that I included will shock people and really make them think.”
The next Mystery Book Club discussion, scheduled for Dec. 14 at 7 p.m., will focus on Henry Chang’s “Lucky.” Canzoneri said that Chang would join club members to discuss his mystery, about a detective’s quest to uncover the truth behind a Chinatown gang leader’s shooting. Community members are invited to attend.