“ Hardcover: 224 pages / Publisher: Robert Hale Ltd / Published: 31 Aug 2011 „
A portrait of a murder is a novel by Stella Whitelaw telling the story of Harriet Dale, Harriet Dale is a private investigator, shop owner, model, actress who is asked to find out about a stolen painting. Throughout we are taken on a journey through Harriet's sub-conscious with Harriet the streetwise PI, Henrietta her alter-ego as the fashion savvy model and Harry as the teenage nerd. All are used in Harriet's investigation into the mysterious painted lady, this is a painting of a 19th century lady whose portrait appears to echo her near future murder and is said to be cursed. WE are soon entering dangerous waters with DI Brice Macdonald as Harriet's confident and who Harriet secret lusts after, we have the posh well-off owner and the dangerous art thief. There is also a dangerous ex-boyfriend and a need to make some money, maintain the shop and start an acting career; I haven't mentioned the explicit sex scene and the constant sexual undertones.
This wasn't a bad book but neither was it brilliant either, entering the weird world of Harriet/Henrietta/Harry was too confusing at times especially when the only difference between the three was what they wore but was used in the third person throughout when that character wasn't being used. The confusing statements such as Harriet must stop thinking like Henrietta and Harry was a total slob, this was when we were on our own in a scene and gave a nod to eccentricities or plain madness.
The story is an engaging one, if a little obvious and the mess Harriet gets into and out of does occasionally make the reader cringe at the simplicity of the storytelling. So we have endless sections with Harriet lusting after Brice, then being told that she simply was the most beautiful women in London who hadn't had a boyfriend for a year. Harry then gets employed as a helper for an art historian and proceeds to do things to him whilst posing as an innocent 15 year old school girl, however, Harriet and Henrietta frown on the behaviour, hang on this is the same person!
After reading the whole book I couldn't work out if the writer wanted to write a kind of crime version of Bridget Jones or a kind of modern Dorothy L Sayers and ended up writing neither, indeed the book rather plods towards the end and even the dramatic ending is a bit predictable. Overall, I think there were elements worth reading in the book but it had many flaws and was a bit predictable and strange in parts.
In the end, the reader was more hanging on for the solving of the 200 year old crime than the disappearance of the painting and surely that's a sign that the book failed to deliver.