CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 2 . . . . September 22, 2000
Detective-Lieutenant Cathy Carruthers stood in the open doorway, surveying the room with a cold, calculating eye. No sign of emotion, no feminine impropriety, marred the composure of her finely-wrought features. She was six foot from head to heel, and blonde; and as she paced the hotel room in silent deliberation, she did things to a straight-cut, gray business suit that had never been intended. And even though the garment ended mid-thigh, it fell well short of its given purpose; to subdue, and otherwise divert attention from the superb body that moved within it. Her vital statistics had become classified information at Metro Central's Eleventh Precinct.This collection of 13 mystery stories have all been previously published, 11 of them appearing in the Mike Shane Mystery Magazine between November 1980 and the summer of 1985 when this pulp magazine ceased publication, while the final two originally were part of the Cold Blood II & III collections. Categorized as "novelets" by Mike Shane Mystery Magazine, the stories range in length from 22 to 46 pages. Each story is introduced via a full-page, black and white reproduction of the cover of the magazine or book in which it originally appeared.
In keeping with the "rules" of the genre, Ames uses broad strokes to create his central character, Detective-Lieutenant Cathy Carruthers, and versions of the "excerpt" cited above are used to introduce her in each story. Because of Cathy's size and "her frequent manifestations of such uncanny strength and power, that she seemed literally to transcend all restraints of mortal blood and muscle," she, unknowingly, has been nicknamed "The Amazon" by her police colleagues. The cover silhouette, however, does an injustice to the character of Cathy Carruthers for it leaves the pre-reading suggestion that she is an "action figure" of the "Charlie's Angels" ilk. Admittedly, most of the stories do have an episode in which Cathy briefly displays her physical strength, but, in essence, she is a cerebral detective who works through observation and deduction, not via beating a confession out of a suspect. As Cathy's partner, Detective-Sergeant Mark Swanson, comments, "The Amazon, he knew, was in her element. There was nothing that intrigued her more than a 'puzzler'."
And Ames does provide Cathy with some challenging "puzzlers," unusual murders, most of which seem to occur during holidays or festival days. For instance, in "To Mom Without Love," a mother is shot to death on Mother's Day, and her body bears no entry wound, just an exit wound, while, in "The Crucifixion," a man's body is found hanging on a 20 foot high cross outside a church on Easter Sunday. The stories begin dramatically and quickly with the presentation of the crime scene. Readers who hope to solve the crime before Cathy reveals the murderer's identity come to learn to pay close attention to each story's opening pages. As the Medical Examiner observes, "that lady's got an uncanny eye for detail," and the key to a crime's solution is often contained in the details found in its opening. Ames includes a supporting cast of recurring characters who include, in addition to Mark Swanson, Cathy's partner, Medical Examiner Samuel Morton and the diminutive Garfield Leprohn, aka the Leprechaun, who is the Head of the Records Dept. and the shortest officer in the police force. Each story also contains the requisite collection of suspects who are brought together near the story's end for Cathy's dramatic announcement of the killer's name, means and motive. As the 13 stories are presented in a chronological fashion, readers may become aware of the sexual-romantic tension that develops between Cathy and Mark as they work together over almost three years.
Although some of the stories are almost two decades old, they stand up well with the exception of a couple of brief instances of what, today, would be characterized as "political incorrectness." While the stories in Amazon are just good reads on their own, the book could find its way into senior English classes where it would be a useful addition to genre studies.
A fan of crime writing, Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and adolescent literature at the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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