Title: A Portrait of Phillip
Author: JP Bowie
Buy Link: Amazon.com
Publisher: MLR Press
Genre: Contemporary Murder Mystery/Suspense/Paranormal-lite
Length: Novel (242 PDF pages)
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: A well-written and good start to the Portrait series.
When Peter Brandon, a gifted young artist awakens from a coma of three years, he learns that his lover, Phillip, was brutally murdered and no one brought to justice for the crime. With the help of Andrew Connor, his physical therapist, he slowly regains his strength, but it is not until he visits Phillip’s graveside and receives an affirmation that his dead lover is somehow guiding him to the truth, that he feels the need to get on with his life.
Through mutual friends, he meets Jeff Stevens, an ex-cop now a PI, and together they discover that Phillip was not the victim of a random gay-bashing, but of a deliberate act to silence him. They unravel a web of lies, deceit and a friend’s treachery. During their investigation, Peter and Jeff find a mutual attraction for each other, a situation that is thrown into jeopardy in their final face off with Phillip’s killer.
A prequel to the Nick Fallon Investigations series but can be read as a stand alone.
A Portrait of Phillip is the first installment in JP Bowie’s five-book Portrait series, which are prequels to his Nick Fallon Investigations series (read and reviewed here). Written in 2000 and self-published in 2004, APoP was Bowie’s first novel, and I found it to be a well-written murder mystery with a touch of suspense and paranormal thrown in. Note that MLR is re-editing and -releasing the Portrait series, and I will be reading/reviewing them as they come out.
The story opens to a voice asking himself about the floating blackness he is in — is he dreaming, dead, somewhere else, why can’t he remember how he got there, and how long has it been? Cut to physical therapist Andrew lazing for a few moments in bed with partner David before he is off to see a new patient. This patient is Peter, an artist who has spent the last three years in a coma after an unsolved brutal attack — seemingly a random hate crime — that left his lover, Phillip, dead. Poo-pooing the doctors who say that Peter will never regain consciousness, his mother arranges for regular physical therapy and massage for her son while he lays in his hospital bed, sure he will wake up one day. And he does. Many rejoice, but Peter is shocked to find that not only have three years gone by, but his beloved Phillip is gone and he has no memory of the attack. Though depressed, the road to physical recovery is fairly easy with the assistance of Andrew, and Peter becomes very good friends with him and David. After visiting Phillip’s grave for the first time, Peter is convinced that his dead lover is somehow communicating with him, helping him both deal with his grief and figure out what happened. When Andrew and David suggest that he hire Jeff, a PI David went to school with, to investigate the attack, Peter reluctantly agrees. As Jeff digs into the case and Peter begins to regain his memory, they are shocked at what is uncovered: Phillip may have been targeted and the danger may not be over for Peter as a survivor. And though he doesn’t think he could ever love again, Peter is surprised that he feels attracted to Jeff and the feeling is very mutual.
Since I’ve read stories that Bowie penned long after this one, I can say two things: he has matured in his craft and this is pretty typical of his writing style. Told in third-person omniscient, we are in the heads of most of the characters at some point, allowing us insight into feelings and motives that we wouldn’t have in other narrative types. Related to this, there is no secret about who did the deed as we are privy to the baddies’ thoughts throughout, though the full reason behind the attack and subsequent happenings is slowly unrolled throughout the book. Like books two and three in the NFI series, it ultimately is a complex web of deceit, corruption, and lies made up of people from all walks, and I was interested to see where it went.
When I read and reviewed the NFI books, I said I had wanted to read this Portrait series so I could get the story of Jeff and Peter as well as some of the other characters mentioned, and I got what I wanted. We are introduced here to many characters that are present throughout this series and into the next. Peter and Jeff (and to a lesser extent Andrew and David) have the lion’s share of this story, but we also meet Rod and A, friends of Peter and Phillip; Monica, Jeff’s admin; Joe French, Jeff’s buddy still on the force; and of course Phillip, who isn’t far from most scenes. Other minor characters have roles here, such as Peter’s mother Eve, but I am not sure they continue on, and I suspect, based on a feeling I have here when Jeff talks about his previous lovers, that at least one of them will be making an appearance further down the line.
Regarding the main characters, Bowie did a very good job at character development and I grew to care about these people. I liked watching Andrew and David’s established relationship, I rooted for new lovers Peter and Jeff, and look forward to seeing how their relationship grows and solidifies over the next four novels. The secondary cast is almost all fully-fleshed as well, and I enjoyed spending time with the good guys. Even the main baddie, Frank, was complex, with his badness being in conflict with the love he feels for his wife and wanting to be a better man — and failing, I might add — because of her.
Outside of a TSTL moment, I thought the plot to be believable, and the smexxin-to-other-plot ratio small, which worked well here.
A Portrait of Phillip is well-written and good start to the Portrait series. Fans of the author and those who have read the Nick Fallon books should not miss this.
Next is A Portrait of Emily, book two in the series (as soon as it’s released).