The Portrait of Doreene Gray by Esri Allbritten is the second in her Chihuahua cozy mystery series (available July 7, 2012).
A hidden portrait, a woman who looks very youthful at fifty, and a decades-old mystery all add up to lots of fun in Esri Allbritten’s The Portrait of Doreene Gray.
While perusing newspaper clippings for possible story ideas, the staff of the tabloid, Tripping, comes across an announcement about the sale of the famous painting, “Portrait of Doreene Gray,” done by her twin, Maureene Pinter. Even though the two women are exactly the same age, Maureene looks much older than her elegant sister. They could be mistaken for mother and daughter.
Since the paper’s motto is “Your Guide to Paranormal Destinations,” this seems like the perfect destination and an interesting story for Tripping.
Editor Angus MacGregor, writer Michael Abernathy, and photographer Suki Oato soon arrive in Port Townsend, Washington, to crash the invitation-only press conference where Doreene Gray will announce she’s selling the famous portrait.
In Oscar Wilde’s original story The Picture of Dorian Gray (the only novel he ever wrote), Dorian sells his soul and stays handsome while his portrait never lets him forget what the evil is doing to him. Though the man looks unchanged, the portrait becomes an ugly, loathsome indicator of the corruption of his soul.
The Tripping staff is eager to find out if the twins have the same situation with their portrait. Or is it something else altogether? Does Doreene have power over the portrait and is what she does to it reflected in how Maureene looks?
Thanks to Angus’s charm and persuasive powers the staff is soon staying at Doreene’s lovely old mansion and peeking in all the corners and closets to find clues about this completely dysfunctional family and its famous artwork.
When Doreene moves forward with her plans to sell the painting, Maxwell Thorne arrives to appraise it and to pack it properly for moving. He’s an old family friend and was Maureene’s representative for many years. He’s hoping the sale of the painting will rejuvenate her career and create new interest in her art. You would think Maureene would agree, but since strange is what you want when you come to this book, strange is what you get!
Maureene didn’t turn from her canvas. “What do you want, Max?”
Max strolled along the perimeter of the room, tilting his head to look at the titles in a dusty bookcase. “I’d like to take you out to lunch. What do you say?”
“I’d say I haven’t showered and my hair looks like roadkill.”
A trio of carved elephants sat on one shelf. Maxwell touched the tusk of the smallest. “Put a hat on. Hats are expected of artists.”
Maureene rubbed a finger across one of the charcoal marks, softening it. “Who else would be coming to lunch?”
“No one, if that’s what you want.”
“What do you want?”
“What do I want?” Max straightened. “I want your portrait of Doreene to sell for so much that the rest of your existing paintings bring in seven figures apiece. I want your renewed fame to cause gallery owners to camp on your doorstep, begging you to paint more. I want museum curators to rend their clothes when they can’t afford a Pinter for their Great Portraitists of the Twenty-first Century installations.” He smiled. “In short, I want you to come out to a nice lunch with two very gentle members of the press and talk about yourself and Doreene’s portrait.”
Maureene shook her head slowly. “She can’t sell that painting.”
Max put his hands in his pockets and came over. He glanced at the canvas, then at the back of Maureene’s neck, where charcoal streaked her weathered skin. “Are we talking about legalities? Because Doreene has a letter from you, giving her the painting.”
Maureene looked up at him, her face bleak. “That portrait is a part of me. If she sells it, I don’t know what will happen.”
Max frowned. “This is not something people in my profession usually say, but it’s just a painting.” He smiled suddenly. “Are you playing the eccentric-artiste card? It’s true that a little tasteful insanity can add to a painter’s cachet, but you shouldn’t waste it on me. I’ll have Elizabeth arrange a TV interview if you like.”
Maureene looked at the canvas again. “Go away, Max.”
“I’ll come back in an hour, all right? Is that long enough for you to shower and dress? Then we’ll have a nice lunch.”
Maureene stood and faced him. “I mean it. If you won’t help me change Doreene’s mind, then get out.”
No one’s happy and Angus, Michael, and Suki keep finding clues that indicate there really is a supernatural element to the story—the maid sees skeleton figures in the woods at night, a host (herd? flock? group?) of slugs show up in Doreene’s room in the middle of the night. The staff of the tabloid is almost tripping over clues. Pun intended.
When Doreene turns up dead, in a locked closet that only she knew the combination to, the real mystery begins!
Leigh Neely is a former newspaper and magazine editor. She currently does freelance work, blogs at womenofmystery.net, and recently wrote the short story, “A Vampire in Brooklyn,” which is in the anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices. She is currently working on paranormal novels with a partner under the pseudonym of Neely Powell.
Read all Leigh Neely’s posts for Criminal Element.