Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Portrait of a Dead Guy by Larissa Reinhart

Reviewed by Jeanne

Cherry Tucker is back in her hometown of Halo, Georgia after earning a degree from the Savannah College of Art and Design, hoping to earn a living with her art. Alas, commissions are far and few between, so when she hears that the Bransons want a portrait of their son Dustin she grabs her portfolio and makes her pitch. The fact that Dustin is deceased and his stepmother thinks a coffin portrait would be nice doesn’t faze her—well, not much, anyway. Not as much as finding out that her rival Shawna, a “smooth-talking Amazonian poacher who wrestled me for the last piece of cake at a church picnic some fifteen years ago,” is going after the commission as well and Shawna’s penchant for hearts, polka dots, and curlicue letters has made a mighty favorable impression on the bereaved.

To make things worse, Dustin’s stepbrother Luke is back in town. Luke has the knack of turning Cherry into a puddle of butter and then sticking her with the check at the local Waffle House. Cherry’s strong resolve to have nothing to do with him doesn’t last any longer than her Las Vegas marriage to another local hunk, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to resist—for a couple of minutes anyway.

Cherry isn’t really interested in who brained Dustin in the garage. She just wants to get a paying job, even if it means sneaking into the funeral home after hours and doing her sketches for the portrait. Then someone bashes her over the head and ransacks the funeral home, making it seem that Cherry is adding grave-robbing to her resume. A girl just has to clear her name, doesn’t she? So Cherry starts asking questions, and gets answers that involve things like meth labs and illegal poker games.  This has the unfortunate side effect of drawing some unwanted attention Cherry's way.

Then there’s Cherry’s family who, as the T-shirt says, put the fun in dysfunctional. Her sister Casey is a waitress at the local diner and cooks fried chicken that would make Col. Sanders look for a day job, while brother Cody is a typical car-crazy young man with a collection of them up on blocks. Grandpa is a retired farmer who likes to keep his goats around, especially Tater who thinks Cherry’s beat up truck is a rival that needs to be butted into the next county.

Portrait of a Dead Guy is a good, light mystery with an entertaining heroine and engaging cast. Larissa Reinhart knows her Southern landscape—she even mentions Bristol Motor Speedway—but she doesn’t lay it on with a trowel. There are some moments that are a bit over the top, but it’s all in good fun. Two points stood out for me: the first is that Cherry doesn’t set out to solve the murder and really doesn’t care who offed Dustin, which is a refreshing change from most amateur sleuths. Secondly, the sections in which Cherry talks about art show a true passion for form, color, and composition, giving some needed heft to her character.

The second book in the series is titled Still Life in Brunswick Stew and is due out in May 2013. My name is on the reserve list.

If you like your mysteries down home, with an impulsive heroine and a cast of characters, this might just be your cup of sweet tea.


  1. Thanks so much for reading Portrait! Bristol is on my list of places I'd like to visit, and I hope to get up there sometime and meet y'all.

  2. Great review, congrats Larissa!

    "Cherry talks about art show a true passion for form, color, and composition..." That is something I also noticed about Cherry. You can really feel the passion within her for what she does. She talks about painting like it is her life (which it is!) It is one of my favorite Cherry Tucker traits! :)

    Julie Gallo
    Editorial Intern
    Henery Press

    1. Thanks Julie! It's fun to use my little-used art background in this way.

  3. We hope you made it to Bristol! If it's during a festival, you have have your picture made with one foot in Virginia and one foot in Tennessee as you stand on State Street. You can do that when it's not festival time, too, but dodging cars makes it harder to get a good picture.

    1. I would love that! I'm a big fan of the Smokies (Blue Ridge down here in GA). Will start working on my husband to get us up there, even if it's not for the race. I've been fascinated by the track ever since reading St. Dale by Sharyn McCrumb.