BARBARA D’AMATO – Hard Women. Cat Marsala #4. Charles Scribner’s, hardcover, 1993. Worldwide Mystery, paperback, 1994.

   This is the fourth of D’Amato’s novels about Chicago freelance journalist Cat Marsala. In previous books she has dealt with the lifestyle of the rich, the world of drugs, and organized lotteries; here she delves into the world of prostitution. As usual, she finds more than she likes or is safe for her.

   Cat has her first television assignment, a short piece on prostitution. A group of Chicago’s city fathers known as the Sinless Seven are making a push to rid the city of streetwalkers, and a local tv station thinks that this is a good time to feature a story on such. Though apprehensive, Cat is glad of the chance, and hits the courtrooms and streets in search of material. A young call girl whom she has interviewed shows up at her apartment, battered, and Cat takes her in for a few days. Then, the girl is found dead on the street in front, murdered.

   D’Amato is a good writer. She manages to pack a wealth of information about prostitutes and their sad, murky world into the story without slowing t down. But then, the story is as much about that world as is a murder mystery. The finding of the killer isn’t exactly an afterthought, but to me it clearly wasn’t as important to D’Amato as what she had to say about prostitution.

   I don’t care much for Cat Marsala as a person. Her attitudes are simply too different from mine for much empathy. It speaks well for D’Amato’s skill at characterization that she came enough alive for me to say that, but it’s hard for me to fully enjoy a book when I can’t like the lead character. Try it, though — if you can like Cat, you’ve got a winner.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #6, March 1993.

      The Cat Marsala series —

1. Hardball (1989)
2. Hard Tack (1991)
3. Hard Luck (1992)
4. Hard Women (1993)
5. Hard Case (1994)
6. Hard Christmas (1995)
7. Hard Bargain (1997)
8. Hard Evidence (1997)
9. Hard Road (2001)