Thursday, May 16, 2013

Hard Road

This was one of several books that I'd brought to the first Winkie Con swap meet, and when Eric Gjovaag saw it, he literally started gushing about it. When I came across another copy of it, I decided to keep it to read later.

Well, it actually sat in a plastic tub for quite a few months, but remembering it and needing something to read, I went ahead and grabbed it.

Taking a look inside, I knew this was a book I needed to read from the front all the way to the back. The author ensures us that she's an Oz fan, having picked up the love from her father. In turn, she passed it to her son, who provides an essay on the concept of evil in the Oz books at the end of the book.

Hard Road is a book in the Cat Marsala Mystery series, and is the only one I've read. Thus, I was jumping into a series that had already established itself. Fortunately, the author doesn't leave newcomers clueless. Rather like the Oz books, relevant details from previous books are revealed in a matter of fact fashion.

The story finds Cat in her hometown of Chicago, where she is enjoying the Grant Park Oz Festival with her nephew Jeremy. Turns out, this detective and her nephew are huge fans of the Oz books. However tragedy strikes when another fan of the Oz books who helped run the Festival is mysteriously stabbed and dies. And it looks as if the killer is... Cat's brother?

But suddenly, shots take the life of one of Cat's dear friends, and soon, attempt for either Cat or Jeremy! They race underground to get to safety, reminding Cat of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. Will she and Jeremy get back out alive, and furthermore, can they find the killer, or will he try to find them?

Although I had some qualms about the writing style (many times, sentences begin with "___ said,"), I fully enjoyed this one. Barbara D'Amato writes with an active style, drawing the reader in. I was really excited to read the next part.

D'Amato has a couple Oz factual errors. One is the surprisingly common misconception that any part of The Royal Book of Oz was by Baum. The other might be intentional, as it appears in a print article Cat reads: that Baum wrote thirteen Oz books. However, fun for Baum buffs is spotting where she takes names from people in Baum's life with a few twists.

Her son Brian D'Amato's essay The Wooden Gargoyles: Evil in Oz focuses on a variety of Baum's works (though he only ever references the Oz books, Tamawaca Folks, Dot and Tot of Merryland and those unfortunate editorials about the Sioux) to point out how Oz is not quite the sanitized Utopia some critics claim it is. Given he goes so far as to mention wooden Indians when making comparisons between the Wooden Gargoyles to the Sioux, I found it grating that the appearance of a live wooden Indian in John Dough and the Cherub was not mentioned at all. While Brian wrote very well, I felt that Baum was being painted in quite the wrong color, and certainly familiarity with more of Baum's work would have helped.

At the end of the book, there is a surprise in a 20 question Oz quiz. I did solve the questions easily enough, though a couple about the MGM film did have slightly inaccurate wordings: again, it is repeated that Shirley Temple was being considered for the role of Dorothy (they only considered her briefly due to popular demand and decided she wasn't their Dorothy), and it asks how the Kansas scenes were filmed, the correct answer being given as sepia. The actual truth was that the Kansas scenes were filmed in black and white, processed as sepia, and then until 1989, most TV airings, VHS releases and theatrical reissues showed those scenes in black and white.

Anyway, Hard Road can be recommended for a great Oz-themed read, as well as an essay featuring a viewpoint on Oz worthy of consideration, and a fun little quiz.

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