Author: Mike Bartos
ISBN :   978-1-4771-5892-0 HC
ISBN :   978-1-4771-5891-3 PB

BASH is an acronym which stands for: Bay Area State Hospital. It’s also the title of Mike Bartos’ new novel. The action takes place in a Charleston community newspaper office and a South Carolina State Mental Facility which has as clientele, the criminally insane. BASH does not exist in real life but maybe because of the author’s background, Bartos is a physician and psychiatrist and former chief of staff at a state institution, while I was reading BASH, I believed totally in the mental hospital’s existence.

The medicos and patients are so realistically depicted I found myself worried for the staff who, hindered by a penny-pinching, report loving bureaucracy, work daily in situations that put them in personal danger. Despite this and the frustration of caring for guys and gals whose view of the world is more than somewhat skewed, the staff; particularly the nurses, battle on with whatever medication or strategies available to keep the patients under their supervision safe, fed and bedded down without incidence or injury. Every year patients go before a parole board to check their suitability for release to the outside world. Not many make it and if they do, it doesn’t seem likely you would want to live in the same neighbourhood. 

A murder inside BASH comes to the attention of Ashley Roper, a Charleston community newspaper owner/editor. Ash Roper is a guy with problems. A recovering alcoholic, he served in the Gulf War and is haunted by dreams of combat and the treatment of Iraqi prisoners of war. The newspaper he founded looks shaky – advertising revenue is going down fast and if he’s not careful so will his marriage. Ash comes up with a solution to boost circulation and save his marriage. With the help of the BASH Police Chief, he goes undercover at the hospital, his brief: discover the murderer and track down who is supplying illegal drugs to patients and then write a feature article for his paper.

I had a bad feeling about this and I was right – Roper is supposed to be released at 6 p.m. on the day his prison patient masquerade begins. It doesn’t happen and by nightfall with no contact with the outside world, Ash Roper is in serious danger. The book’s title says it all, and there’s another murder as Ash’s wife, Sally J, fights desperately to have him released.

Despite the grimness of the setting, there’s a lot of black humour in BASH and amidst the organized chaos and violence of a mental facility there are some funny situations and characters. The plot unusual, Mike Bartos’ description of Southern Carolina beaches is written with an eye to nature and the people who call the low county their home. Vivid and immediate writing. 

The story is multi-faceted and Bartos’ style of pacy semi-documentary fiction is complemented by his ability to tie all the loose ends together in a hugely exciting ending.

I really liked BASH; it’s a great story and a testament to the men and women who work ridiculous hours for ridiculous pay, to care for the people we’d rather not know about – the criminally insane.   

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