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Hardball, Barbara D'Amato, The Mystery Company, $13.00.

Hardball by Barbara D'Amato

Jim Huang, under his Mystery Company imprint, is slowly re-releasing some of his favorite out of print titles, of which Hardball is one. This is D'Amato's first Cat Marsala book, and it's just as full of zippy energy, strong characters, and relevant social situations as the rest of her novels. While this novel is a good, sharply written mystery, it's also a look at the long reach of drug use in society - and begins with the bombing and killing of a drug legalization advocate. Cat herself is anti-legalization - her own brother is in prison for drug use.

Far from being a preachy polemic, however, this novel instead introduces Cat - a freelance journalist who lives with a parrot - and follows her through her routine, thus establishing lots of characters who re-appear in other Cat Marsala novels - notably Captain Harold McCoo - but she's also ably to quickly detail other secondary characters and have you remember them. This isn't one of those mysteries where you get to the end and you aren't sure whodunnit or why because all the sub-characters are so indistinguishable it makes no difference whodunnit. Hardball should whet your appetite for the rest of the series, which are mostly (but not all) out of print. Luckily we usually have a good selection in the used section. If you are a fan of Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, and Marcia Muller and have somehow missed D'Amato on your reading journey, make up for it now, and make the acquaintance of Cat Marsala.

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