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Book Review: Amen Corner by Rick Shefchik

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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 three 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.

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