Perfect Evil
by EC Sheedy, contemporary (2003)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7530-8

In a case of a perfect mix-and-match, Shannon McKenna's endorsement of EC Sheedy's debut Perfect Evil is pretty appropriate. Ms Sheedy's style is reminiscent of Ms McKenna's darker romantic suspense style and there is an almost Cluedo feel to this mystery story. The bad news is, the author puts in too many things in her book and readers looking for romance will be very disappointed, I'm afraid.

Hannah Stuart, widow (her husband and kid were murdered), has been older man Milo Biehle's platonic companion and confidante right until Milo breathes his last. He leaves behind some letters for her, telling her that these letters will right some grave wrongs in her life. And this stupid woman refuses to open these letters and see what are inside. These letters soon become a problem when bad things start to happen. I'm not going to say more because the mystery has many interesting twists and turns and I'd hate to spoil the fun for future readers of this book. The Cluedo feel of the story comes from a bunch of people staying at the same building as Hannah's, among them our hero Yates Lang.

That's not to say that this story is sophisticated or smart. There are so many things in this book from smuggling of people from the Far East to pedophile villains to arson to murder to mayhem that Perfect Evil soon becomes an unintentionally campy parody of a mystery story. Yates is so ridiculous in his sexual cockiness that I can easily imagine him swagger in his walk, and some of the "sexy" exchanges in this book consists of Yates hurling sexist insults at Hannah. But if Ms McKenna can get away with this, I don't think Ms Sheedy will have any problems collecting $200 after passing Go. Perfect Evil soon becomes so caught up in its own intricacies right down to an unintentionally laughable denouement. This and the fact that there are many characters in this book result in the main characters and their relationship being severely underwritten.

In a way, Hannah works pretty well as a heroine. She is a timid heroine that tends to flee at the first sign of adversity (in short, a typical romantic suspense heroine) but she fits right in with the whole campy feel of the story. It's the same with Yates - when I find it hard to take the increasingly lurid plot twists and turns seriously, it's even easier to laugh at his over-the-top behavior and speech patterns. Romance is pretty much zilch though - the first sex scene is far from romantic as there is very little tender emotion involved in the act.

The overwhelming kitchen-sink feel of the plot can be a problem, but I find Perfect Evil an interesting read nonetheless. It's like following a calligrapher at work as he works on more and more intricate patterns. I find myself intrigued by Ms Sheedy's piling on the twists and red herrings and my enjoyment soon comes more from following Ms Sheedy's plots rather than from reading the story itself. Am I making sense here? My enjoyment comes from observing the technical aspects of this story rather than from actually liking the story itself. Still, I must commend Ms Sheedy for coming up a very different story from the usual serial killer stories out there.

Readers that enjoy Shannon McKenna's books may have a more enjoyable time reading this book. With the over-the-top hero, the overly neurotic heroine, and a plot that's more campy than sophisticated - which is how I view Ms McKenna's last two books - Perfect Evil may fit the bill for readers seeking to pass the time while waiting for the paperback edition of Ms McKenna's books to hit the bookstores.

Rating: 71

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