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Monday, 22 August 2016

‘A Painted Smile’ by Frances Fyfield

Published by Sphere,
19 November 2015.
ISBN: 978 0 7515 5520 2 (TPB)
25 August 2016.
ISBN: 978-0-7515-5621-9 (PB)

Sometimes reading a book which is part of a series feels like meeting up with old friends, even when some time has passed and it’s only the second visit to their world.

A Painted Smile is the third adventure for Di Porteous and her motley crew of allies. I missed the second, though I will certainly be seeking it out. This one is as engrossing, as richly woven and as subtle as the first, and these are charismatic people I want to know better.

It’s not a murder mystery, but the one death (by natural causes; the character was a frail eighty-something) becomes the catalyst for a chain of events encompassing burglary, blackmail and fraud – not all committed by Di or members of her merry band. But the real crime, as in the first in the series, is the damage people do to each other in pursuit of their own goals.

Di is slowly coming to terms with both widowhood and the dilemma of suddenly becoming a rich woman with a passion for traditional visual art, especially the many portraits which festoon her beautiful house. She and Saul, her late husband’s art collection agent, are planning an exhibition which will begin the process of opening her collection to the public.

Then Toby, eighty-plus and an amazingly talented member of an art class, dies with his brush in his hand, leaving a decrepit house where Saul finds a dozen exquisite paintings which have clearly been taken from a museum. He removes them, leaving Di uncomfortable; she makes an elaborate plan to return them, but what she discovers in the process makes her wonder how wise this would be...

I could sum up the rest of the story in a few more lines, but hate to spoil the plot of a novel I recommend so heartily. The plot is only part of it; the characters, the convoluted relationships between them, and the meticulous attention to detail which brings the whole scenario so vividly to life are arguably more important – certainly a more significant factor in my huge enjoyment of the book.

Di herself, her possibly-half-brother Steven, her lively but damaged twelve-year-old step-grandson Patrick, desperate to make his malevolent parents notice his existence, her father Quig of dubious morality, sprightly octogenarian Tabitha Hanks, Saul’s worldly-wise sister Sarah: these are just some of the intriguing personae who make up the extensive cast. The unnamed Kent coastal town they live in is as much a character as the people; and Frances Fyfield reveals a talent for finding the hearts and souls of museums, several of which figure strongly.

And as if all that wasn’t enough, she explores human nature at its best and worst, and makes the reader think very carefully indeed about the nature of right and wrong.

She has sown fertile ground in this series, and I for one hope it continues to bring forth fruit as full of flavour and nourishment as A Painted Smile.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Frances Fyfield   is the pseudonym of Frances Hegarty, a lawyer and crime-writer. Born 18th November 1948 in Derbyshire, she was mostly educated in convent schools before reading English at Newcastle University. She then went on to qualify as a solicitor, working for what is now the Crown Prosecution Service, thus learning a bit about murder at second hand.  Years later, writing became the real vocation, although the law and its ramifications still haunt me and inform many of my novels. She has been the recipient of both the Gold and Silver Crime Writers'Association Daggers. She is also a regular broadcaster on Radio 4, most recently as the presenter of the series 'Tales from the Stave'. She lives in London and in Deal, overlooking the sea which is her passion.
Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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