The Portrait of Doreene Gray: A Chihuahua Mystery (Tripping Magazine Mysteries)
by Esri Allbritten
Review by Don Metzler
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312569167
Date: 03 July 2012 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Slight sounds came from the pitch-black opening -- the echo of footfalls on concrete, and the occasional grunt or groan.The oddly loveable crew of Tripping magazine are on the job once again, this time traveling to Port Townsend, Washington, to investigate the upcoming sale of a valuable though somewhat mysterious work of art. The portrait of Doreene Gray was painted forty years earlier by Doreene's twin sister, noted artist Maureene Pinter. Over the years, Doreene has maintained her youthful beauty, seeming to have not aged at all in the physical sense. But the portrait, as well as sister Maureene, have most definitely aged. So the recent announcement of Doreene's intention to sell the painting has attracted attention not only in the art world, but also in the offices of Tripping, a magazine devoted to all things paranormal. Angus, Michael and Suki fly to Port Townsend to get the story firsthand.
Their visit begins with the conspicuous crashing of a press conference as uninvited guests. But despite the feathers they have inevitably ruffled, the intrepid reporters somehow manage to wangle an invitation to lodge in Doreene's mansion home for a few days while they research the story. What they're really after is a look at the controversial painting, and better yet a photo of said object. But Doreene keeps the portrait locked in a vault-like closet attached to her bedroom, and has forbidden that any photographs be taken. So the Tripping crew elect to bide their time, and it is not long before some puzzling, and even upsetting events begin to transpire.
First there is the incident of strips of paper with vaguely demonic messages scribbled thereon, which appear in the chicken soup during lunch at the mansion. Then there is the infestation of banana slugs that appears in Doreene's bedroom at midnight. Angus fairly salivates at the implications -- a "plague of slugs", as he chooses to label this incident, is just the sort of quasi-paranormal fodder that he craves for the pages of Tripping. Doreene's boy-toy Brazilian husband Reynaldo insists that she should destroy the painting right away. To his superstitious way of thinking, this is obviously the work of Satan. But Doreene is determined to wait for the private auction to take place before allowing the portrait to be removed from her home.
The cast of characters also includes sister Maureene, who insists that the painting should remain in the hands of family, and international art dealer Maxwell Thorne, who hopes to make a healthy profit from a sale of the portrait. The scene is further complicated by the arrival of Doreene's disinherited niece Lyndsay, as well as a shadowy character named Enrico Russo, who patiently sits in his white Impala automobile for hours at a time on the street outside the mansion.
Is there a story of the supernatural here that's worthy of appearing on the pages of Tripping magazine? Angus thinks so, but the always skeptical Michael believes that all of the hoopla surrounding the mysterious portrait is nothing more than a publicity hoax. Photographer Suki Oota snaps her photos and keeps her mind open to either possibility. But when Doreene is found dead on the floor of the very closet where the portrait was stored, the assignment suddenly takes a more sinister turn.
The Portrait of Doreene Gray is great good fun. Readers who enjoyed Esri Allbritten’s first novel in this series,Chihuahua of the Baskervilles, will especially appreciate the constant flow of wry wit and occasional episodes of slapstick humor as Angus, Michael and Suki blunder their way through their latest misadventure, and try to solve the mystery of a work of art that for decades has baffled the finest experts of the art world.