Thursday, July 25, 2013

Melanie Jackson's Debut Novel in Miss Henry Series Provides Artistic Lessons With Murder...

"She had thought of making that offer though she had never owned a cat. Marley was fond enough of Juliet, or at least her tuna fish sandwiches which she packed on days when she was painting, to not be put off by the smell of turpentine or her favorite Siena red paint. 
"Though Juliet was likewise warmhearted toward Marley and enjoyed his company when she worked, she had no fondness for his human landlord and therefore withheld offers of adoption which would cause rancor and perhaps retaliatory snooping. Her low opinions of Harvey Allen’s morals and personality were not unique, though he had not aroused her to speechless fury as he had so many of her neighbors. Perhaps because she hadn’t been there long enough for him to discover anything about her. 
"There were things to discover though, and she knew that he might manage the feat someday no matter how discreet she was. Harvey was a professional gossip. 
Yes, I had to put the cat picture first! I found it on the author's web site!
Portrait of a Gossip:
A Miss Henry Mystery

By Melanie Jackson

First, let me draw your attention to the book cover...

“Juliet, can you explain the difference between an artist and an artisan and a craftsman?” This exasperated question brought her back to the present and she wondered what Asher Temple had said to him. The sheriff was not an unintelligent man, but he was likely a bit out of his depth. For a here-and-now man who probably played softball, liked fishing, and watched American Idol, a crowd that lived in some mental construct, emoted freely, and had no similar connection to reality or pop culture— not even TV— would be an enigma shrouded in mystery.
 “Who do you think will win American Idol?” she asked.
“Er … maybe the boy from Georgia. He’s got a lot of personality and a good voice.”
Juliet nodded. “To answer your question, the difference is ego, mainly. Fortunately my neighbors’ eccentricities haven’t blossomed into full-fledged egomania. In most cases.” He blinked at her answer and then smiled a little, making Juliet realize that he had been looking unusually grim since he arrived. That was hardly surprising, of course, but she preferred the friendlier version of the law. Juliet went on attempting to explain. “Artists are often lost in creativity though. Not just focused on a job, but obsessive to the point of being blind to the needs of anyone or anything else. Things that you would think were standard knowledge, writ large in letters of fire, are sometimes missed. You know that poem about no man being an island? That isn’t true of artists— at least not the young ones who know they are destined for greatness and possibly immortality. Think of the mad scientists from the movies.” The sheriff snorted. “The rest of us— the craftsmen— are happy to create, but we are more competent and workmanlike. We remember to feed ourselves and are aware of others’ feelings and reactions. We don’t feel that art exempts us from good manners or entitles us to special behavior.” At least, not criminal behavior.
“Can they help it, the artists, or are they just…?” He sounded frustrated as he searched for a word, and she supposed that for a non-artistic person, dealing with the creative and sometimes egotistical personalities of a
Harvey (Photo credit: Paul D'Ambra - Australia)
n artists’ colony could be frustrating, especially when they shared no common cultural denominator.
“Born weirdos ” Juliet suggested and then shrugged. “I wouldn’t know. I’m one of the craftsmen who like to eat.” “And remembers to feed the neighbor’s cat even if she has to leave her own work half-done.”

Harvey (Photo credit: Paul D'Ambra - Australia)

Marley mewed, doing his best to look starved and pitiful. “It won’t work,” Juliet said. But it did actually work. And since Harvey’s house was only about fifty feet above her and he kept Marley’s kibble in a plastic trash can outside the front door, Juliet decided to take a break and get her feline friend some breakfast. She stuck her brush in a jar of turpentine. “Coming?” she asked the cat, who at first seemed uninterested but then decided that, yes, perhaps he was interested enough to bestir himself.


The cover reflects the setting of the book, which is an artist colony. Other covers for upcoming books are beautifully illustrative as well. This is my first time reading Melanie Jackson, but looking through her web site is a fun experience which only made me want to have more time to read!

Miss Henry is a very unique character. She's retired, so is using her artistic skills to add to her financial stability. You'll find that she probably doesn't need it, but still makes the effort to be working. Painting is quite different from her job with the NSA... But, of course, you know that means that she's going to be involved when criminal activities occur; namely, murder...

And who better to murder than a gossip?! LOL After all, an individual who gossips can kill people just as effectively as a knife or gun, don't you think?

Fortunately the local police knew Miss Henry's background and were quite willing to allow her to participate, by talking more informally with the other artists in the colony. By doing so, we find out a little about painting... And Miss Henry soon discovered that there were quite a number of her neighbors about whom the gossiper had been talking!

Of course, with the security of the compound, it was very likely that somebody within the colony had killed the gossiper! But then Miss Henry discovered that the man had been accepted by the owner of the colony himself... And then, another man was moving in right above the house in which the murder had occurred. And he also had been accepted by the owner himself... 

Juliet was a calm person not prone to hysteria of any sort, but having two men, who were strangers, living above her, one of which was already murdered, did give her pause...he made marionettes out of real bone... Now you know I had to check that I found an example that would break up the tension Juliet was feeling...

Actually, after she got to know the man, as well as several of the other male artists in the colony, she seemed to be having some very friendly times with them! You know, it just takes a good murder case to solve to get to know the people surrounding you!

This short whodunit is fun but not easy...a small challenge for you real mystery solvers, but for those who got involved with the cat, Marley and the male relationships developing like me...just plan on enjoying the time spent with Miss Henry and her sudden turn to whimsy in her designs--solving crime or new friends...? I know... it's Marley who caused her new happiness!

“Yes.” Garret stared at her and then shook his head in admiration and annoyance. “Is there anything you want to tell me about him in return since your sources seem to be as good and maybe better than mine?” 
“Nothing like the horse’s mouth for details,” Juliet agreed. “As long as it isn’t lying, of course. Esteban says that he and Raphael and Mr. Biggers all served together. I am assuming he meant in the armed services and not some sentence in a penitentiary.” 
"Juliet began to add the bumble bee to her drawing. Maybe it looked a little cartoonish— perhaps too large to be true to scale— but it would make for a great children’s shirt. She should have thought of kid’s clothes before. 
“He is a veteran,” Garret admitted. “But he also worked border patrol. Retired after he was shot a second time. I guess he was smart enough to take a hint and get out before it came to a feet-first exit, which is more than some guys manage.” Juliet looked at Garret and then nodded. 
“That feels right. He seems….” She thought about it. “He doesn’t seem like regular law enforcement, not a rules and regulations person, but he is someone working on the side of order.” She didn’t mention the gun.
 “He doesn’t give you the creeps?” Garret asked. “He’s seems snake mean to me.”
 “He probably is,” Juliet agreed, remembering the feel of his hand on her mouth and how easily he’d manhandled her. “At least in the wrong situation. He doesn’t give me the creeps exactly, but I want to know what kind of dreams he has to make those damn puppets. Now those give me the creeps. And I think anyone who buys them has lizards in the brain.” 

"Lizards on the Brain..."??? Yep, that's a quote directly from Miss kind of woman...LOL Enjoy cause it's highly recommended...


Melanie Jackson, an award-winning author of more than fifty novels, stories and poems lives with her writer husband in the California Gold Country with their cat (also a writer who has a page on myspace) and their dog (who is hoping to get a page on facebook as soon as she masters typing). Melanie likes gardening but hates the deer who also like her garden, and she volunteers at a local animal shelter.

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