cover image Hard Christmas: A Cat Marsala Mystery

Hard Christmas: A Cat Marsala Mystery

Barbara D'Amato. Scribner Book Company, $19.5 (282pp) ISBN 978-0-684-19687-9

Chicago freelance reporter Cat Marsala (last seen in Hard Case) pilots her old Bronco up into rural Michigan and finds murder among the family about whom she'd chosen to write a wholesome puff piece about Christmas-tree farming. She spends Thanksgiving weekend with the DeGraafs, a clan whose patriarch crossed the ocean in 1847 and cleared his own fields. Anthony Award-winner D'Amato's gift is description--not just her evocation of the heady scents of trees and lakes, or the savory accounts of hearty Dutch meals, but also precise explanations of harvesting procedures and machinery, including the mechanical tree baler into which somebody feeds the farm's foreman, killing him. The DeGraafs, it turns out, have secrets to protect, and suddenly Cat's looking into events more tangled than spruce roots. Although all the clues are meticulously in place, the crimes seem basically inconsistent with the murderer's character as it has been developed. Despite its disappointing ending, however, this effort rides far on the pleasures of Cat's company--and on her appealing, often funny, first-person voice. (Nov.)