Portrait Of A Murder (2023) by Michael Jecks

Nick Morris is a decent enough painter, but as you might expect, mainly painting portraits of beloved cats does make it tricky to make ends meet. When he is asked to paint the portrait of Jason Robart, a Devon-based hotelier, he takes the commission, despite the fact that he doesn’t particularly like the man. And as he gets to know him, he decides that he likes him even less. And he’s not the only one…

When Nick finds Jason’s body, it seems clear that he committed suicide by shooting himself in the face. But as he wasn’t exactly acting suicidal, and there is no sign of a note, Nick isn’t convinced this isn’t a case of murder. There are plenty of people who might want Jason dead – his girlfriend who Nick has taken a shine to for one, but also some sinister business associates – but what exactly is Nick going to do? He’s a painter, not a detective…

Michael Jecks, friend of the blog and the blogger, has made his name writing historical fiction, such as the Last Templar mysteries or more recently the Jack Blackjack series, but this, the first book in a new series, is right up to date in the modern era. Yes, there is a substantial part set in Devon – some things don’t change – but this is a new direction for the author and a really interesting one to boot.

The idea of an artist as sleuth is an interesting one. The notion that an artist is an observant person, and notably being able to stare at someone for hours on end  as they paint them, makes them a logical choice as an investigator. Jecks realises quite rightly though that an artist wouldn’t necessarily suddenly start investigating a murder, so finds ways to make Nick inveigled more and more into the criminous goings-on.

This means that the plot takes a surprising change of format in the second half of the book, starting off as what feels as if it’s going to be a traditional whodunit, but takes on a much more noir feel in the second half. As regular readers will know, that’s not my favourite genre, but this works very well, partly the contrast to the opening section and partly the sense that Nick is getting more and more trapped in something that is out of his control. There is still a whodunit surprise element to the story, although I did have a bit of a problem with one aspect of that revelation, but the overall tale works wonderfully well.

This is a promising start to a series featuring a fresh lead character. Looking forward to the next outing.

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