Title: A Self Portrait
Author: J.P. Bowie
Cover Artist: Deana Jamroz
Publisher: MLR Press
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Genre: Contemporary Romance/Mystery/Suspense/Paranormal-lite
Length: Novel (237 pages)
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: I liked part of the story and felt the other was a big disappointment.
A Self-Portrait is an enthralling mix of romance and suspense, of enduring love and friendship, even after death, and the human spirit’s indomitable will to survive.
Living with a private investigator can bring an element of danger into a guy’s life. When his partner Jeff Stevens disappears on a routine trip to meet a friend in LA, Peter Brandon’s psychic intuition alerts him to the fact that Jeff is somehow being held against his will. Determined to find him, Peter reaches out for help to his deceased lover, Phillip, through the unbreakable psychic bond that still exists between them.
Traumatized into unconsciousness, he dreams and remembers the life-defining relationship he had with Phillip and the subsequent events that took him almost to the point of death-and back. On waking, and with the certain knowledge that Phillip will aid him in his search, he and his close friends Andrew and David, set out to find Jeff.
They enlist the help of Nick Fallon, a NYPD detective, who flies in to help them and together they face a cult of Satanists led by Paul Lefevre, a mad illusionist promising his followers eternal life. Lefevre attempts to take control of Peter’s bond with Phillip by holding Peter’s mother hostage-a mistake that will cost Lefevre dearly as Phillip exacts a terrible revenge.
A Self Portrait is the fourth installment in JP Bowie’s five-book Portrait series (the first books are reviewed here), which are prequels to his Nick Fallon Investigations series (reviewed here), and features artist/psychic Peter and his PI boyfriend, Jeff. While I think that this book could be read as a standalone, I wouldn’t advise it and recommend the series be read in order. Originally self-published in 2005, ASP has been re-edited and re-released by MLR.
First, let me say that I have overall enjoyed the other three books in this series as well as the spin-off series devoted to Nick Fallon. I thought the characters have been well-developed, the plots generally believable, the paranormal aspect (Peter’s limited psychic abilities) okay, and the mysteries pretty solid. I was interested to see what we were going get from what I would think would be something about Peter’s story because of the title.
ASP is narrated in first person by Peter—a change from the shifting third person omniscient of the previous books—and is divided into two parts. The first part is about 150 pages and is mostly devoted to the backstory of Peter and Phillip (Peter’s murdered longtime partner), which we are shown while Peter is unconscious after his lover, Jeff, disappears. We first were introduced, of sorts, to these two in the book one, A Portrait of Phillip, but it was mostly about finding Phillip’s murderer and Peter’s newly-developed psychic talent that he was “gifted with” after waking from a multi-year coma. Here, we see how Peter and Phillip meet, their lives together, and the challenges and heartache they suffer up to the point where Phillip is killed and Peter wakes up. I actually liked this part of the story. While it did not advance the current storyline any and I think some readers may be unhappy with this tangent (and possibly detract from the Peter/Jeff romance), I enjoyed watching their meeting as teens (I’m all for a good YA story), how they survived going off to college, then rejoining after. We got to meet several recurring cast members who are in the other books as Peter and Phillip meet them, getting some more character development from them as well. Related to this, we get second coverage of a few of the events in the other books, but I was okay with that. It felt like a novella in itself and it was just fine.
The second part of the book, which is only 72 pages (including a smexxin scene), just fell apart for me. It starts with Peter waking up from being unconscious and covers the quest to find the missing Jeff. It felt crammed, rushed, contrived, melodramatic and, well, ridiculous, especially compared to the first part. Where the other books had Peter using his psychic abilities in moderation and about as believably as one can believe paranormals, here it was over-the-top. Where the other books had a few TSTL moments here and there, this part was laced with them. Where the other books took the entire page count to tell the main story, here the “Jeff-is-missing-and-we-need-to-find-him” part is jammed into those 72 pages (plus a few from the beginning before Peter goes unconscious). Also, the Satanic cult piece of the tale, and especially the leader, was just plain silly. The whole thing felt kinda farce-y.
This was not necessarily a good addition to the series overall. While I liked the part about Peter and Phillip, I really disliked the rest. Hopefully the next (and last) installment, A Portrait of Olivia, is back on track.