Alex Feldman was born with a birth defect and is now a horribly disfigured and immensely secretive young man. No one can look at him for the first time without a withdrawal reaction of some sort. When his neighbor, the strict, religious zealot Gus Marchand is murdered, Alex becomes one of the main suspects. Gus had accused Alex of stalking his 14-year-old daughter and had brought the sheriff out to Alex's home with threats. Now Marchand is dead. So is his wife, who died in a car crash when she rushed home after hearing the news. Alex's best friend and father figure, Dr. Graham Minick contacts Barbara Holloway to represent Alex if the man is officially accused of the murder.
The other main suspect is a long time friend of Frank Holloway's, Hildy Frantz. She approaches Frank when she is afraid she might be arrested for Gus' murder. He agrees to represent her if needed.
Now, for the first time, Frank and Barbara's relationship is seriously threatened. They cannot discuss the case. They cannot both use the same private detective they have used for years. Both want to protect their possible client. Neither can help the other, and have to be careful not to jeopardize either client's case by discussing it in any way.
When Hildy Frantz commits suicide. Alex becomes the main suspect since he is the outsider, the "beast" or as known by the neighbors, the "devil spawn". Eventually Alex is arrested on seemingly compelling circumstantial evidence. Now Barbara has to do everything she can to prove him innocent, protect his secret, and keep him from being exposed to the world at large - the people who could not see past his deformity and would automatically assume he was the killer. After all - he looks like a beast, so he must be one, right?
Frank, on the other hand, still protects Hildy's memory. He won't allow Barbara to shift the blame of the murder onto his friend. Barbara is once again able to use the services of the private detective, though. She needs him more when Frank's life is threatened. There's still a rift between the two, but she certainly doesn't want anything to happen to Frank.
Kate Wilhelm maintains the high quality of this mystery series here in Desperate Measures. Because of witnesses around the time of the murder, there are a small, finite number of suspects. Alex appears to be the perfect scapegoat. There is some "beauty and the beast" aspects to this story that includes Kate's partner, Shelly.
Wilhelm carefully pulls the reader through, flummoxes (I love this word although rarely use it) the prosecutor, and has Barbara Holloway use her wits and intelligence to protect Alex. As usual, the road to the solution is twisty and twiny, never letting go. The writing is excellent. Alex's disfigurement is never sugar coated, his angry adolescent history is never ignored, yet is a very sympathetic protagonist.
This novel gives short shrift to Christian zealots and bigotry.It doesn't address Christians who are more realistic in their thinking, so gives a lop-sided view of religious people. Marchand is the type of man who uses his religion to control those around him. never softening and never seeing beyond his own narrow view of the world. Unfortunately there are people like Gus Marchand in the world. Fortunately, most Christians aren't.
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