Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Mystery Book Review: Amen Corner by Rick Shefchik

Mysterious ReviewsMysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written our review of Amen Corner by Rick Shefchik. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.Amen Corner by Rick Shefchik

Amen Corner by
A Sam Skarda Mystery

Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-59058-411-2 (1590584112)
ISBN-13: 978-1-59058-411-8 (9781590584118)
Publication Date: March 2007
List Price: $24.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): The body of the Masters rules committee chairman is found in the middle of the 10th fairway on the morning that Sam Skarda arrives at Augusta National Golf Club in to play in his first Masters. Skarda, a 33-year-old police detective on medical leave from the Minneapolis police department, is an accomplished amateur golfer who won the U.S. Publinx and an invitation to play in the Masters while rehabbing a shooting injury suffered on the job.

Evidence left at the crime scene suggests the murder might have been tied to the ongoing protest by a women's group that has been demanding that the club admit women members. Then a crusading New York Times columnist is murdered on the grounds of the club two days later. Local police suspect the murders might have been committed by a member and begin pressuring the new Augusta National president for access to the club's membership information.

The club chairman asks Skarda for help finding the killer before the police thoroughly invade Augusta National's legendary privacy. Skarda looks for answers from members, veteran journalists, longtime caddies and ex-employees who may know why someone is determined to bring this year's Masters to a halt.

He also falls for Caroline Rockingham, the soon-to-be ex-wife of one of the pre-tournament favorites, a former college golf teammate of Skarda's. Sam and Caroline themselves become targets as the murders continue and pressure to cancel the tournament builds. Meanwhile, the killer methodically prepares for a spectacular and deadly Sunday climax.

Review: Sportswriter Rick Shefchik introduces policeman and amateur golfer Sam Skarda in his first published mystery, Amen Corner. Sam, on leave from the Minneapolis police force after being shot in the knee, has been advised by his doctors that walking will help the rehabilitation process. Working up from 3 holes a day to two rounds every other day, Sam discovers he's a good golfer in the process, winning a local competition and receiving an invitation to play in one of golf's most prestigious events, the Masters.

This year's Masters tournament, however, gets off to an inauspicious start when, prior to opening day, one of the board of governors is found murdered on the course, accompanied by a message etched into an adjacent green: "This is the last Masters". Less than 48 hours later, a prominent reporter is also murdered, with a similar message appearing near her body. The police think the murders are related to the golf clubs exclusionary policies, but the chairman of Augusta National, where the Masters is held, believes otherwise and hires Sam to investigate the murders from an insider perspective.

Shefchik takes a Columbo-like approach to his story, introducing the killer, Lee Doggett, in the prologue. Yet this in no way lessens the appeal of the mystery as the author is able, for the most part, to successfully maintain a high level of suspense throughout. The contrast between Doggett and Sam is striking and they provide a formidable adversarial relationship that works well in the context of the book.

Shefchik manages to deftly sidestep the controversy surrounding the Masters in general and the Augusta National Golf Club in particular with respect to the organization's policy of excluding women from its membership. He fairly portrays both sides of the argument without taking sides himself. At one point Sam says, "I believe in the right of private clubs to make their own rules, whether the rest of us like it or not." But he goes on to say, that, all things considered, he'd "... rather belong to a club that had women members."

If there's a weakness to the story, it's the unnecessary inclusion of a love interest for Sam. He's at Augusta to play golf and solve a series of murders. Why the author felt the need to include a romantic interlude that detracts from these objectives is unclear.

Special thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for providing an ARC of Amen Corner for this review.

Review Copyright © 2007 Hidden Staircase Mystery Books

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