Title: A Portrait of Emily
Author: JP Bowie
Cover Artist: Deana C. Jamroz
Publisher: MLR Press
Amazon: Buy Link Kindle and Paperback (2003 self-published version)
Genre: Contemporary Murder Mystery/Suspense/Paranormal-lite
Length: Novel (242 PDF pages)
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: A good, solid follow-up as the second book in the Portrait series.
When Peter Brandon is commissioned to paint Emily Hastings’ portrait, his psychic awareness unlocks the dark secret that has haunted her since childhood. Now on the brink of at last finding happiness in the arms of the man she loves, she is faced with her father’s manic desire to ruin her life.
Charles Hastings, Emily’s father, is found murdered and the police consider Emily, along with her brother, Anthony, the prime suspects. It is up to Jeff Stevens, Peter’s lover, to try and clear their names. His investigation becomes even more personal when Joey Fernandez, who had disappeared from Jeff’s life some years before, is also found murdered. Jeff now has to track two killers, at great risk to himself.
His discovery that Hastings was involved with a child prostitution ring enrages Jeff and he agrees to be the bait in a police ‘sting’ operation…but when that goes wrong, the outcome is no longer certain.
Warning: This story contains implied incest and non-consensual sex. This story has been previously published.
A Portrait of Emily is the second installment in JP Bowie’s five-book Portrait series (book one, A Portrait of Phillip, is reviewed here), which are prequels to his Nick Fallon Investigations series (reviewed here), and features artist/psychic Peter and his PI boyfriend, Jeff. While I think that the series should be read in order, this book can be read as a standalone. Originally self-published in 2003, APoE has been re-edited (including the removal of a m/f smexxin scene) and re-released by MLR. Note that Bowie tackles the serious subjects of incest, sexual child abuse and pedophilia in this novel, and while there is no on-screen abuse, those highly sensitive to the topics should perhaps avoid this story.
The story begins with a prologue from the point of view of a young girl, Emily Hastings, as she fearfully awaits the frequent nighttime visit from her father, who is sexually abusing both her and her sister. Her mother, totally aware of what is happening under her roof, turns a blind eye to the “perversions” of her domineering husband, and there is nowhere for the girls to turn. Jump ahead to the present, set approximately seven months after the end of the previous novel, to Peter finishing up a portrait of Gloria. At the unveiling party, he is introduced to Emily, Gloria’s cousin, and can immediately sense that there is a sadness in her. Asked to paint Emily’s likeness by her fiancée, Peter continues to feel drawn to her, finally prying out the secret she holds. Just as more people learn of the horror the Hastings family has been through, pater Charles is found murdered. There are plenty of suspects, but Emily and her brother Anthony, who had terrible childhood experiences of his own, are at the top of the list as vocally despising their sire and having motive, and Jeff is asked to help clear the siblings. As he investigates, he discovers a child prostitution outfit and becomes involved with an attempt to shut it down. In the meantime, Jeff’s ex, Joey, is back on the scene trying to weasel money and attention from him. When he is murdered as well, Jeff tries to help solve both crimes.
I trust Bowie to give us a solidly-written, complex murder mystery, and this story delivered. Even with everything going on, it didn’t feel like it was over-packed with plot: the continued effects of Emily’s molestation on her and those around her; the reveal of Anthony’s childhood; the reappearance of Jeff’s ex, Joey; the murder of both Joey and Emily’s father; and the child prostitution ring. While we know who kills Joey (we are there when it happens), the reveal on the murder of Charles Hastings was unexpected for me, and in the end, it all wrapped up neatly.
From my experience, APoE is a pretty typical offering from this author as far as style goes. Told in third-person omniscient, it gives us access into the thoughts of almost every character at some point. Certainly this narration style has its advantages and gives the characters more depth than they would have had with more limited POV, but I admit that it’s not my favorite way to watch a story unfold. I have to keep on my toes because there can be headhopping when I least expect it, forcing me to have to go back and re-read the previous para(s) to make sure I know what is going on.
Also typical of Bowie are prevalent themes of a just end to evil, and that love and friendship can overcome all the bad in the world. I know the baddies (who are generally irredeemable) will get their due in some way and the goodies will get their HEA, and it was no different here.
The characters felt familiar, with Peter and Jeff being at the forefront. Peter, whose psychic abilities are uncovered in the first book, uses the feelings he gets to the advantage of both helping Emily and her brother, and Jeff uses his skill and brains to help as well. The secondary characters all had purpose and sufficient depth, and those who we are supposed to like and feel sympathy, I did. And because I’ve read the Nick Fallon spin-offs, I can see that we are getting set up to meet him in one of the next books with Andrew and David’s change.
A couple of niggles:
Repeating plot points of the first book. I’ve found that books in a series (after book one, that is) can go in one of two directions for handling previous events: either each book is a direct continuation of the previous one and there is little to no explanation of mentions of what had gone on before (the reader is expected to know what happened), or the author takes time to make explanations about references to prior happenings (for readers who pick up a book part-way through the series). Bowie is of the latter, and he chooses to make explanations via conversations with other characters, so for example we have Jeff saying to a cop friend of his “Remember how [Peter] drew the sketch of [baddie], one of the men who murdered Phillip Jennings?” and Peter telling various people about his coma and an abbreviated version of the plot of the first book. For the first instance, I am sure Joe French remembered fine who [baddie] was, seeing as how they had all worked together on the force in addition to Joe being peripherally involved in Phillip/Peter’s case and subsequent happenings. To me, it sounded odd for them to talk that way, but it is ultimately done for the benefit of those who did not read A Portrait of Phillip. There were quite a few of these explained references and after a while, they wore on me as a reader of the first book. It’s entirely possible that this may not bother other readers at all.
Lastly, I found several glaring formatting errors.
A Portrait of Emily is a good, solid follow-up as a second book in this series. Fans of the author, A Portrait of Phillip and those who have read the Nick Fallon books should not miss this.
If picked up by MLR, A Portrait of Andrew, the third book in the series, will be reviewed next.