The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque

Written by Jeffrey Ford
Review by Audrey Braver

Imagine being commissioned to paint a portrait without being allowed to see the subject. This is the irresistible challenge facing Piambo, a renowned portraitist at the peak of his career. He is allowed to interview the subject, Mrs. Charbuque, who speaks to him from behind a screen. From these question and answer sessions, Piambo is supposed to picture her face and form and create the portrait. This is a mystery within a mystery, for as the sittings progress, New York City is plagued with murders as inexplicable and horrible as those committed by Jack the Ripper, the investigation of which involves Piambo.

This intriguing story, set in New York City in the 1890s, has a surprise ending. Jeffrey Ford has presented a solid mystery with a good feel for time and place. Divination of the future by the study of snowflakes is integral to the plot, but the author describes the process in such detail that it slows the pacing a bit. However, this in no way affects the suspense as the dual mysteries unfold.