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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

By Evil Means

***½ By Evil Means by Sandra West Prowell. Mystery.

I'm not sure where I got this one, or why.

P.I. Phoebe Siegel has a rule about not taking cases in March. March has not been good to her: her beloved aunt's death, her divorce, and her brother's suicide all happened in March.

So when Mary Kuntz asks for Phoebe's help with her daughter Jennifer, whose stay in rehab has left her sicker than before, Phoebe's first answer is to refer her to another P.I.

Then Mary tells her that Jennifer had filed a complaint about Phoebe's brother shortly before his death, and Phoebe is hooked. She finds herself in a complex web of murder and intrigue centered around a shady rehab center.

It was an interesting premise, and I liked the idea that the case tied in to her brother's suicide, but I didn't buy the villain's motivation, and too many characters acted nonsensically--their actions serving the plot rather than being dictated by their personalities. Mostly, the story seemed like a made-for-TV movie: heavy on the drama, light on the logic and characterization.

The horrors uncovered at the rehab center seemed simply designed to shock, as there wasn't a real explanation for them other than that the villain was "evil." The same goes for the behavior of several characters, who were obstructing the case for no discernible reason other than that it made things more difficult for Phoebe, keeping the plot moving.

It's still a readable story, as long as you're expecting a made-for-TV movie rather than an Oscar contender.

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