Short summary: We meet back up with Ash McKenna outside Naturals, a Portland-based vegan strip club as he’s doing half of what he’s good at–getting hit. He’s working on keeping the other half, hitting back, tucked deep down inside and far away from the surface. Portland is just the latest stop in a tour of US cities Ash has been through lately, all of them following his departure from New York in the wake of a self-destructive quest to find a friend’s killer.  He’s doing his best to turn over a new leaf, to leave the drinking, smoking, brawling Ash he used to be firmly in the past where he belongs. So when one of the strippers, Crystal, asks for his help finding her daughter, it’s too much like his old life to agree to help. 

That is, until he’s forced in a trunk, warned to stay away from Crystal, and pistol-whipped by a man in a chicken mask. Then, it’s personal. Chicken Mask broke his cell phone and owes him a new one. 

Ash begins to unravel the mystery of where the daughter went while letting the new Ash unravel as well and in the end, finding who he was and always has been waiting for him under a thin veneer of sobriety and pacifism.  

I first fell in love with Ash McKenna in Hart’s first book, New Yorked, and couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of City of Rose. Literally couldn’t wait. I think I told the author I’d fight a methed-up bear to get to read an ARC and, well, that’s how I got my hands on a copy.

I listened to the audio book of New Yorked and was a little worried about how I’d fall into City of Rose without that wonderful, gritty narrator serenading me through it. To my pleasant surprise, the book grabbed me the moment I opened it and it hurt every time I had to put it down.

Ash is back in full force, no matter how hard he tries not to be. I love this character right in his facemeat. McKenna is everything I like in my protagonists. He’s unpolished and rough at the edges, full of himself, too, like being from New York makes him some Prince of the US. At times he’s hotheaded and misguided, recklessly violent even as he knows he shouldn’t be. But what really makes you love Ash for all his faults is his heart. This guy lobs himself time and again in harm’s way to help somebody else, because it’s the right thing to do. Because he can’t not do the right thing, even if you might disagree with him about what exactly ‘the right thing’ is. He’s a beautiful balance of fault and heart, ego and introspection.

What I really enjoyed about Ash throughout this book was the warring emotions Hart manages to drag out of you. You can’t really love Ash without his faults, but what kind of asshole are you for hoping he starts drinking and punching again? Ash isn’t really himself until he returns to who he was, but it’s almost heartbreaking to watch. To come so far, to fight so hard, only to have that thin illusion of being a good human shatter irreparably before him…I had to put the book down for a while.

New Yorked really spoils you story-wise, but City of Rose doesn’t lag far behind. It’s definitely more straight forward but I don’t feel it suffers for it, it’s just different. You’re still glued to the pages at every turn, wishing Ash would hurry up and solve the mystery faster because OMG it’s killing you and you want to know all the details NOW. Also, it’s spot on for pacing. There were no lulls or dull moments I could find in the short time it took me to devour it, just a steady stream of hooks, violence and intrigue to keep you digging deeper right alongside Ash. It’s a steady, vicious ride that keeps you cheering for the just-okay guys throughout the whole thing.

When I read that this second book was set in Portland, I was a little dubious. Ash is New York. The grit and the people and noise and the life helped shape the first book into all that it was. Hart doesn’t disappoint with Portland, however. That man has a knack for capturing the very essence of a city and breathing life into until you feel like you’ve been there yourself. He’s not wrong, either. I’ve accidentally walked into strip clubs in Portland, music controlled through an iPod in the corner.  The food is amazing, the people weird, and public transportation unreliable. Ash’s journey through that odd stripper-inundated town makes me want to go back myself.

All in all, Hart wrote a hell of a book. City of Rose is a gritty, hardcore ride that will leave you with both pain and a little more warmth in your cold, dead heart, and you’ll thank Rob for it, by god. Ash McKenna isn’t the hero anybody really needs, but he’s the hero I hope we get to see a whole lot more of.

Get yerself some:

From Amazon

From Indie Bound