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    HARD ROAD by Barbara D'Amato (see her website)


    Scribner, 2001

    Chicago's Oz festival is in full swing and Cat Marsala is enjoying showing her nephew around when the head of security falls dead. Cat had seen the murder with all of the evidence pointing directly at her brother and is then chased through Chicago's tunnels by a gunman. When she escapes, she tells the police what she saw and her brother is arrested. Yet, Cat cannot believe that her brother would kill anyone, let alone shoot at her and his son. She resolves to investigate herself when the police seem content with their first suspect.

    Author Barbara D'Amato (see more reviews of novels by this author) has written a tight mystery. The three men who were with the victim immediately before he ran to Cat's brother all tell the same story. None knew the others before the Oz Festival began so it is difficult to see why the two innocent ones would protect the guilty. Worse, from Cat's brother's perspective, Cat never saw any blood until the victim reeled away from her brother.

    D'Amato's Chicago feels real and solid. So too is Cat's family--who instantly rallies around her brother and tries to convince her that she should have kept her mouth shut. The Oz quotes and references that begin each chapter add an amusing and apt touch to this novel.

    I would have liked to see more insight into the characters. We know that Cat wants to clear her brother's name, but that is about all the insight we get into her motives. Her nephew, Jeremy, is probably the most completely drawn character. The others, including her three 'suspects' and her brother, remain one-dimensional. Still, D'Amato is a fine craftswoman and I found myself compelled to keep reading to find out what would happen next.

    The volume concludes with an essay on Oz and L. Frank Baum's legacy--a legacy marred by editorials he once wrote recommending the genocide of the American Indian. The essay, written by D'Amato's husband, is definitely worth reading for anyone interested in L. Frank Baum and the Oz legend.

    Two Stars

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