cover image Hard Women: A Cat Marsala Mystery

Hard Women: A Cat Marsala Mystery

Barbara D'Amato. Scribner Book Company, $20 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-684-19564-3

D'Amato turns in another excellent Cat Marsala mystery (after Hard Luck ) despite the tension-destroying, flash-forward opening in which free-lance journalist Cat finds prostitute Sandra Lupica, her houseguest, dead in the alley behind her apartment building. Cat first meets Sandra while seeking women to interview for her ``TV essay'' on prostitution in Chicago; later her research includes a guided tour with Ross Wardon, a helpful but gratingly sexist vice cop who knows red-light life from streetwalkers up to high-priced escort services. Cat is getting a sense of the varied nature of the prostitution scene when Sandra shows up on her doorstep with her clothing torn, a lump on her head and a fat lip caused by ``My boyfr--my father.'' She'll grant an interview if Cat will put her up temporarily. When the police show only a lukewarm interest in how Sandra went from being safe inside the apartment to dead on the pavement, Cat plunges even deeper into a world where it's tough to tell who your friends are. Although her tale carries a determined social conscience, D'Amato spins an engrossing story, convincing us again that Cat is as likable as she is clever. (Apr.)