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on 11 November 2003
When this grabbed me, I then polished it off in a day. It's a tale half a step away from the real world, just beside the territory of Bram Stoker and Poe (similarly mannered style) where sympathetic magic might work, or might not. I also kept expecting Jack the Ripper to step out of an alley way. It was evocative of that world. The book is full of distorted iconography and wonderful knowing humour: "Put me down for the nose," he said. "A truly ingenious economy of paint." (just one of many examples), the macabre, and the erotic (and the scatological). I'll be reading more of his stuff.
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on 4 December 2007
This is an outstanding piece of fiction. I really wish there were more writers like Ford in the business. Wonderful prose, delicate lyrical style. And very thoughtful, too. Kept your mind working - a rarity for many books these days, isn't it? Will be buying some more of this man's books.
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on 8 October 2007
In New York of 1893, painter Piambo is suffocating. He's forced to paint society portraits of the nouveaux riches in order to make a living. A mystery comission to paint the portrait of Mrs. Charbuque offers a way out, as she offers a rather mind-boggling amount of money for her portrait. There's a catch, of course: Piambo is not allowed to see Mrs. Charbuque. He can only hear her talk behind a screen.

Piambo accepts the commission. While he struggles with the painting, a wave of mysterious murders hits New York. Soon Piambo finds out he's in a bit too deep for his own good, but getting out is not that easy - and does Piambo really want to get out?

Jeffrey Ford has written a marvellous book. The story was a real page-turner, this is a magical book full of new wonders. Both Piambo and Mrs. Charbuque are interesting characters and the story is riddled with interesting people and events. It's been a while since I've read a book this captivating. Highly recommended for the fans of magical and fantastic.
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on 5 July 2002
This novel sparked my imagination from its first pages. As the painter, Mr Piambo, laboured to capture the likeness of his invisible -and possibly mad - patron, Mrs Charbuque, I found myself urgently making my own mental portraits of her, as if to beat Piambo to the goal. Ford writes cleverly without being pretentious, and maintains real suspense throughout the book. I couldn't put it down - and will never be able to smell nutmeg without fond memories.
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on 28 August 2015
To my mind, the best fiction is one that seamlessly crosses genres, leaves the reader thinking, and presents a world that is familiar, but difficult to recognise. The portrait of Mrs Charbuque falls into this category.

Part character study, part thriller, part murder mystery, we are faced with a New York, lived in and visited by millions, but due to the historical setting, completely alien to us.

We are forced to re-evaluate our views on art, and thanks to the intriguing premise of the novel, forced to re-evaluate our views, not only on the mystery genre as a whole, but on the very nature of evil.

Ford makes the familiar unfamiliar, in a style and with a panache, that elevates him above his peers.
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VINE VOICEon 18 July 2006
I purchased this book mainly because I only really read historical fiction, and was captured by the opening sentences as I perused it in the shop. I did not expect it to be the mysterious and suspenseful read that it turned out to be! I found myself wanting to read on to get to the outcome, and to find out who or what Mrs. Charbuque may be! However, as marvellous as it was, one could guess at about half way through as to the nature of this somewhat 'cranky' lady, but this does not detract from an otherwise exciting novel. My only complaint would be; it would have been even better and even more atmospheric, had it been set in the dark streets of Victorian London instead of the unromantic streets of America.

Enjoy the read!
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on 23 May 2011
I am honestly quite surprised at all the 5 star reviews this book got. I've read all of the Physiognomy trilogy by Jeffrey Ford which are excellent, which is why I decided to get this book. But this is nothing more than an average book really. It didn't really feel like it went anywhere, there were parts where I thought it was beginning to but then it would just tail off into nothingness again. Concepts didn't seem to be explored deeply enough.

Anyway it looks like I'm a 1 off in my opinion, but my copy will be in the 2nd hand shop soon enough.
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on 4 May 2009
Piambo is an artist commissioned to paint a woman he is not allowed to see. If he pulls this off, he will earn so much money he will forever be able to pursue his artistic muse whereever he wants, without being forced to paint society portraits for his 'betters'. Gradually he becomes sucked into the mysterious world of Mrs Charbuque, of monkey arms and mad husbands, turdologists and twin snowflakes that whisper the furure. In the process, his own life begins to unravel, as New York becomes an increasingly dangerous place to live.
This is a brilliant gothic, historical, and supernatural mystery, that will appeal to anyone who likes something a bit different.
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