A Portrait of Crime Mystery

By Sharon Pape

Berkley Prime Crime, 2012 ($7.99)

ISBN-13: 978-0-425-24669-6

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Rory McCain, a former police sketch artist, is now a private investigator with some special skills and a nuisance for a houseguest. While leaving for a trip to Arizona, she is accosted by Eloise Bowman, the elderly mother of a neighbor. The woman has obvious neurological problems, if not outright dementia, but she startles Rory by mentioning the houseguest — the invisible one nobody is supposed to know about. She then warns Rory to take care on her trip, because something bad is coming. Rory gently sooths the agitated woman, then drives away, making a note to spend some time with Eloise when she returns from her trip. The lady may be mental, but she has obviously some special abilities of her own.

Rory's resident spirit and business partner is Marshall Zeke Drummond, who was murdered one hundred thirty-four years ago. Her main reason for going to Arizona is to keep her promise to him to find out who killed him, but she can't tell her family that. She says she's going to look up a college friend. Her Aunt Helene has other ideas, and sweeps Rory up in her plans. She and her fellow thespians at the Long Island troupe, the Way off Broadway Players, are between gigs and in need of a vacation, and Arizona suits them fine. Reluctantly, Rory gives in to her insistent aunt's steamroller tactics, and joins the group.

While Rory searches for clues to Zeke's murder at the Tucson historical society, Helene and the rest of the group visit Gray Wolf Canyon. She gets a frantic call from Helene, telling her that the group was hit by a flash flood, and one of the group, Preston Wright, has been drowned.

Things take a turn for the worse when it is discovered that Wright's death was no accident, and that the main suspects are members of the troupe, with Helene at the top of the list. Helene asks her niece to take the case and uncover the true killer. As Rory digs into the man's life, she discovers this will be no easy task. Preston was a womanizer and a liar, and the list of those who might wish him harm is a long one.

Rory and her ghostly assistant use all their skills and abilities to uncover the truth about Preston's murder, and that of the Marshall, stirring up a lot of dust and dirt, both modern and ancient. The team of McCain and Drummond is charming, funny, endearing, and resourceful. The plot is well-drawn, the settings, both east and west, vivid, and the characters are very believable. This series is a winner.

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