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The Portrait of Doreene Gray: A Chihuahua Mystery

The Portrait of Doreene Gray: A Chihuahua Mystery

4.8 5
by Esri Allbritten

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"A little bit X-Files, a little bit Agatha Christie and a whole lotta charming. If you like your mysteries baffling, bizarre and, above all, fun, you're going to love it."

--Steve Hockensmith, author of Holmes on the Range

In this laugh-out-loud-funny mystery, Angus MacGregor and the zany staff of Tripping Magazine, a


"A little bit X-Files, a little bit Agatha Christie and a whole lotta charming. If you like your mysteries baffling, bizarre and, above all, fun, you're going to love it."

--Steve Hockensmith, author of Holmes on the Range

In this laugh-out-loud-funny mystery, Angus MacGregor and the zany staff of Tripping Magazine, a travel magazine that covers paranormal destinations, investigate a bizarre story in a town brimming with secrets. Forty years ago, Maureene Pinter painted a portrait of her twin sister, Doreene. In an eerie turn of events, Doreene hasn't aged, although her portrait has. When Doreene decides to sell the portrait, the Tripping team travel to Doreene's mansion in Port Townsend, Washington, a Victorian town wreathed in mists and mysteries, to get the scoop on this intriguing story.

When strange strips of paper appear in her soup, Doreene invites Tripping to stay and solve the town's many puzzles. Why does a man named Enrico Russo sit in a white Impala outside the mansion? And what does Lupita, the housekeeper, fear? Soon, it becomes clear that while Doreene has kept her youthful looks, the past is catching up with her. Packed with laughs and featuring a mystery with a delightful literary twist, Esri Allbritten's The Portrait of Doreene Gray is a fabulously entertaining tale.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The three quirky main characters add an appealingly hip edge to the cozy core of Allbritten’s sequel to 2011’s Chihuahua of the Baskervilles, though readers should be prepared for a less engaging plot this round. Angus MacGregor, Michael Abernathy, and Suki Oota of Tripping magazine, which covers travel destinations with paranormal appeal, make a trip from the magazine’s Boulder, Colo., headquarters to Port Townsend, Wash., where artist Maureene Pinter has painted a portrait of her twin sister, Doreene Gray. Like Wilde’s original, Doreene’s portrait ages while she does not. When Doreene is found dead in a locked room, the police assume it’s a suicide or accident. But the portrait now looks young again, so the journalists keep investigating. Among the suspects are Doreene’s resentful sister and slick art auctioneer Maxwell Thorne. Dog lovers may be disappointed by the minor role canines play despite the subtitle. Agent: Jennifer Unter, the Unter Agency. (July)
From the Publisher

“Frightfully funny.” —Mystery Scene on Chihuahua of the Baskervilles

“A light and engaging tale with charming characters that will appeal to those outside of both mystery and canine genres.” —Kirkus Reviews on Chihuahua of the Baskervilles

“Eccentric characters, a lively pace, and adorable tiny dogs... [For] dog lovers and those who like their mysteries on the light side.” —Publishers Weekly on Chihuahua of the Baskervilles

“Likable characters, an intriguing mystery, and a quaint setting. Her series debut will appeal to cozy mystery lovers.” —Library Journal on Chihuahua of the Baskervilles

Kirkus Reviews
The staff of a supernatural magazine can't decide if its latest mystery is a case of human trickery or something more. When Doreene Pinter decides to auction off a portrait of herself painted by her identical twin, Maureene, the news of the sale makes the local press in Port Townsend, Wash. Although Maureene's art has some fame in its own right, the reason for the notoriety of this particular sale is in the change of the painting over the years. Like Dorian Gray, Doreene hasn't seemed to age a day since the painting was completed, though the painting, as in Oscar Wilde's, has fared less well. The mystery surrounding this phenomenon brings the staff of Tripping, the magazine for all your supernatural needs, to town to get the story firsthand. Helmed by fearless Scot Angus MacGregor, its editor and cofounder, Tripping also counts among its staff the firm nonbeliever Michael Abernathy and the quirky and eye-catching photographer Suki Oota. Once assembled, the crew is ready to get down to the business of finding the truth, though Angus and Michael wind up bickering about everything from the nature of the supernatural to the use of aphorisms, which Michael dryly describes as "The spray cheese of wisdom." Fast and furious wit like this helps move the tale along, though Allbritten (Chihuahua of the Baskervilles, 2011, etc.) still insists on saddling the otherwise charming Tripping staff with Doreene's Chihuahua, Gigi, in an effort to put a Chihuahua in every pot. Streamlining the complexities of this series by focusing on dialogue and character development rather than elaborating everyone's connection to Chihuahuas might expand its reach beyond readers infatuated with the breed.

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St. Martin's Press
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A Tripping Magazine Mystery , #2
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Read an Excerpt

The Portrait of Doreene Gray

A Chihuahua Mystery

By Esri Allbritten

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2012 Esri Allbritten
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-01151-0


Outside the darkened windows of Doreene Gray's second-floor bedroom, a squall buffeted the house and whistled across the gingerbread trimming. A mile away, it sang through the rigging of ships in the harbor of Port Townsend, Washington, whipping the black water into whitecaps, then speckling the foam with rain.

Doreene slid out of bed, grimacing slightly at a twinge in her lower back. At fifty-eight, she could avoid many of the signs of age, but not all.

The young man beneath the sheets stretched one tanned arm across the bed. "Princessa." His drowsy voice was further thickened by a Brazilian accent. "You can't sleep?"

"Don't have a panic attack, Reynaldo. I'm just going to the can."



He muttered something and subsided.

Doreene felt her way across the darkened room, but instead of going to the bathroom, she found the door to a small adjoining bedroom that had been turned into a closet. Under her fingers, the old-fashioned lock plate slid aside to reveal a computerized keypad. Doreene silently tapped a code onto the faintly glowing keys.

Once inside, she shut the door and locked it from the other side. The sound of the storm disappeared, muffled by the surrounding racks of clothes. Still in the dark, Doreene pulled what felt like a coat off a hanger and arranged it at the foot of the door before switching on the light.

A cluttered dressing table sat in the middle of the room, its mirror supported by two upright posts. Doreene sat in the matching chair and leaned close to the mirror. She might have been nearing sixty, but she didn't look a day over thirty. Blond hair curled gently over her shoulders, and her wide hazel eyes looked out from unlined skin.

"Eyebrows might be getting a little thin," she murmured, running a finger against the fine hairs and then smoothing them back down.

The dressing table had space behind it. Doreene grasped the top edge of the oak mirror frame and rotated it downward. The back side swung into view, revealing a stretched and mounted canvas.

She winced a little at the sight of the hideous portrait. The original oil painting was almost hidden beneath pasted-on bits of paper. Tiny lines of writing served as the furrows that ran from nose to chin. Blotches of red and brown paper, torn from magazine pages, marred the cheeks with an impressionist collage of age.

Doreene pulled open the drawer of the table and removed a newspaper clipping.

Famous Portrait for Sale

Maureene Pinter's painting of identical twin sister to be sold at auction.

The photo below the subtitle showed Doreene's sister, Maureene, one hand raised too late to hide her haggard face. She looked every bit of her age, and more.

Doreene gathered cosmetic-smeared tissues from the table and threw them in a nearby trash can until she uncovered a pair of nail scissors. Trimming carefully, she cut the picture of her sister's face from the article, then looked from it to the artwork in front of her. "Neck, I think."

She lay the trimmed photo down and found a bottle of foundation. After rubbing some of the makeup between finger and thumb, she carefully shaded the scrap of paper, holding it up to the portrait occasionally to check the color.

Next she uncapped a bottle of clear nail polish and brushed a few strokes on the back of the photo. After positioning it at the base of the portrait's throat, she carefully pressed it into place.

Doreene studied her sister's expression on the drying newsprint. "Didn't expect me to put the painting up for sale, did you? And you have one more shock coming."

As she leaned back, the newly applied photo merged into the impression of wattled skin. Doreene stroked the smooth column of her own throat and smiled. "If I do say so myself, I've become quite the artist."


Two weeks later

In the Boulder, Colorado, offices of Tripping magazine (Your Guide to Paranormal Destinations), two-thirds of the staff were having a fight.

Michael Abernathy, Tripping's main writer, had the sardonic look of a Greek faun, with the addition of gold-rimmed glasses and blue jeans. He was arguing with Angus MacGregor, editor and cofounder of Tripping. A tall, rangy Scot in his early fifties, Angus had the warm smile and twinkling eyes of a kindly uncle, which was only slightly misleading.

Michael raised his voice another notch. "Leaving aside the question of intrinsic value, astrology columns are everywhere. What's going to set ours apart?"

Angus thought for a moment. "We'll couch all the advice in terms of how it affects travel."

Michael looked over the top of his glasses. "So next to the article on 'Best Haunted B&Bs,' you're going to say October is a good month for Virgo to stay home?"

Angus ran a hand through his iron-gray hair. "Maybe we can focus on the paranormal aspect somehow."

"How?" Michael adopted a girlish tone. "'March is not the time to change your hairstyle, Sasquatch. If you need a pick-me-up, focus on those big feet and get a pedicure.'"

Angus burst out laughing. "Perfect! Come up with eleven more and we'll have the first batch done."

Michael groaned but made a note on his laptop. "All right, but I'm using a pseudonym."

Suki Oota, Tripping's photographer, wandered into the office carrying an iPad and a file folder. In a city where yoga-toned college students inflated the standard of looks, Suki still turned heads. Tall and half-Japanese, she wore her black hair in a short, spiky cut and favored red lipstick. Today she wore torn jeans over black leather boots with an array of buckles. A faux snakeskin tank top in red and black revealed her perfectly toned arms.

Michael looked up. "What's up with all the eyeliner? That's not very steampunk."

"I dropped the steam," Suki drawled in her Los Angeles accent. She tossed the folder on Angus's desk and slouched in the other chair. "Can we work on what features to do next?"

"Certainly." Angus pulled the folder toward him and smiled benignly. "What are these?"

"Suggestions I got through e-mail." Suki hooked one leg over the arm of her chair. "I don't know what you guys already have."

Michael opened a document on his computer. "Somebody caught a giant squid with a tennis shoe on one of its tentacles. Oh, and there's a new twist on those goats that faint when they hear a loud noise."

"What kind of twist?" Angus asked.

"Apparently some of them crap themselves, too."

Suki rolled her eyes. "Can't wait to take those pictures."

Angus looked skeptical. "I'm not sure there's anything paranormal about crapping goats."

"Depends on what they crap," Michael pointed out.

Angus raised his eyebrows questioningly.

Michael shrugged. "Sorry. It's just regular crap."

Angus shuffled through the printed e-mails. "Let's see what we have here. Ghost, turtle with an image of an alien on its shell, talking tree ..." He read silently for a moment. "Looks like only one person can hear it. That's a shame. Oh, here's something. Mystery painting. Portrait of Doreene Gray to be sold."

"It should be 'picture'," Michael said.

Angus looked up. "What?"

"Oscar Wilde's original title was The Picture of Dorian Gray. People are always getting it wrong."

Angus stared at him. "It must comfort your friends, knowing you're always there to correct them." He tapped the paper. "Considering this is an auction and not a book, and the portrait is of Doreene Gray, I think Mr. Wilde is not under discussion."

"I bet Doreene Gray isn't her real name," Michael said.

Angus scanned the e-mail. "It has been ever since she married Mr. Gray. When the portrait was painted, she was Doreene Pinter. Bit of a lucky break there."

Suki heaved a sigh. "What's the deal with the picture?"

"It ages but she doesn't, or at least not much." Angus swiveled his chair and began to type on his laptop's keyboard.

"Who painted the picture?" Michael asked.

"Doreene's sister — twin sister, Maureene, who ages normally." Angus turned his computer so they could see the screen. "Here's a photo of the two of them, taken eight years ago."

Suki and Michael leaned forward and studied the photo. There was a strong resemblance between the two women, but they looked more like mother and daughter than twins.

"She's probably had work done, but it's really good," Suki said.

Michael rolled his eyes. "Of course she's had work done. Do you think she owns an actual magic picture?"

"Michael ..." Angus waved a hand around the office, gesturing to the framed covers of Tripping magazine that decorated the walls. "May I remind you of our audience? Our mission is to present the uncanny for the public's entertainment." He picked up the e-mail and waved it. "We have a picture that changes over time, a woman who doesn't, and best of all, we have twins. Twins are always interesting."

"That's true." Suki gave a languid smile.

"What about the location?" Michael asked. "Do the sisters live in the same city? Is it a place people will want to go?"

"Absolutely." Angus turned the laptop so he could type in a search string, then hit enter and turned it back to show them a harbor full of masted boats and a Victorian-era downtown. "Port Townsend, Washington. The land that time forgot. At least, it forgot for about seventy years."

"Does that mean they don't have an airport?" Suki asked.

Angus shrugged. "I understand the drive from Seattle is beautiful."


Maureene Pinter lived in a frame cottage separated from the main house and her twin sister by a quarter acre of overgrown woods.

Inside, sunlight slanted through windows clouded by dirt and rain spots. Dust floated on the air, settling on the Scottish terrier that lay, belly-up, on the sofa. The dog snorted and twitched a paw in its sleep.

Maureene sat hunched on a stool in front of her easel, rolling a stick of charcoal between two fingers. Her short salt-and-pepper hair stuck out on one side of her head. The canvas in front of her sported two curved lines. They could have represented anything or nothing.

Someone knocked on the door. The terrier barked sleepily, then twisted to its feet and jumped to the floor. Its claws clicked on the scarred linoleum as it followed Maureene to the door.

She pulled aside a curtain covering the door's window, then swiveled the dead bolt and opened it before going back to her stool.

Maxwell Thorne stepped inside. A broker for Rothwell's auction house, he wore at least three thousand dollars' worth of clothes. The charcoal suit wasn't showy, but the material hung perfectly. His shoes were slightly interesting, his watch deceptively simple, and his tie a work of art.

He reached down and spoke to the dog while scratching its head. "Hilda, it's good to see you again. You, too, Maureene."

Maureene didn't turn from her canvas. "What do you want, Max?"

Max strolled along the perimeter of the room, tilting his head to look at the titles in a dusty bookcase. "I'd like to take you out to lunch. What do you say?"

"I'd say I haven't showered and my hair looks like roadkill."

A trio of carved elephants sat on one shelf. Maxwell touched the tusk of the smallest. "Put a hat on. Hats are expected of artists."

Maureene rubbed a finger across one of the charcoal marks, softening it. "Who else would be coming to lunch?"

"No one, if that's what you want."

"What do you want?"

"What do I want?" Max straightened. "I want your portrait of Doreene to sell for so much that the rest of your existing paintings bring in seven figures apiece. I want your renewed fame to cause gallery owners to camp on your doorstep, begging you to paint more. I want museum curators to rend their clothes when they can't afford a Pinter for their Great Portraitists of the Twenty-first Century installations." He smiled. "In short, I want you to come out to a nice lunch with two very gentle members of the press and talk about yourself and Doreene's portrait."

Maureene shook her head slowly. "She can't sell that painting."

Max put his hands in his pockets and came over. He glanced at the canvas, then at the back of Maureene's neck, where charcoal streaked her weathered skin. "Are we talking about legalities? Because Doreene has a letter from you, giving her the painting."

Maureene looked up at him, her face bleak. "That portrait is a part of me. If she sells it, I don't know what will happen."

Max frowned. "This is not something people in my profession usually say, but it's just a painting." He smiled suddenly. "Are you playing the eccentric-artiste card? It's true that a little tasteful insanity can add to a painter's caché, but you shouldn't waste it on me. I'll have Elizabeth arrange a TV interview if you like."

Maureene looked at the canvas again. "Go away, Max."

"I'll come back in an hour, all right? Is that long enough for you to shower and dress? Then we'll have a nice lunch."

Maureene stood and faced him. "I mean it. If you won't help me change Doreene's mind, then get out."

Hilda, who had been busily nosing at the corner of an area rug, looked up and growled, her teeth bared.

Maxwell backed toward the door. "Maureene, tell me what's wrong. Do you need a change of scene? Maybe there's something I can do to help."

"There is. Don't sell the painting."

"If I don't, Doreene will just find someone else. It's going to happen, Maureene."

Hilda gave a sharp bark.

"It can't," Maureene said. "It just can't."


Seventy miles separated Port Townsend from the Seattle-Tacoma airport. The Tripping crew landed in early morning darkness and rented a minivan to accommodate the photography equipment. Suki drove to the Seattle Ferry Terminal, where they caught a ferry to Bainbridge Island.

Suki and Michael ate pastries in the ferry's café for their breakfast. A boy of about three stared at Suki, his gaze traveling from her studded leather bracelets to her face. She puckered her lips at him and he smiled delightedly.

Angus drank only tea. While his staff went out on deck, he sat inside and stared into his teacup, avoiding any view of the bobbing horizon.

Halfway through the trip, Michael came back in and took a moment to stand in front of Angus, swaying to the boat's movement.

"Sit down if you're going to stay," Angus snapped.

Michael switched to swaying in counterpoint. "What's the matter, Angus? I thought most Scots had Viking blood."

Angus swallowed thickly. "They learned you can only reproduce if you get off the boat and stay put."

"That's ridiculous," Suki said, joining them. "The motion adds to the experience." She raised the camera that hung on a strap around her neck and snapped a picture of Angus's face.

He groaned and turned away.

Michael sat on the bench opposite Angus. "What's the plan? Get settled today and do the interview tomorrow?"

Angus put his cup on the table. "We're seeing Doreene Gray today, but it's not exactly an interview."

Suki sat next to Michael. "What is it, exactly?"

"An invitation-only press conference," Angus said, "and we don't have an invitation."

"I wish you'd told me," Suki said. "I didn't pack any clothes for crashing press conferences."

"I'm sure you'll figure something out."

Michael held up a hand. "Wait a minute. Did you even ask for an interview before deciding to just show up? How do you know she won't talk to us?"

"Because Doreene Gray comes from money, and she's trying to sell a painting to moneyed people."

"Ah." Michael nodded. "So she won't want the tone of the event compromised by our piddling magazine."

"Piddling paranormal magazine," Suki corrected. "I thought the painting's big selling point was that it was spooky."

Angus gave a wry smile. "A mystery is only mysterious if you don't overpromote. Also, the sale is being handled by Rothwell's, and they'll err on the side of tasteful. Don't expect to see signs that say, THIS WAY TO THE POSSESSED PAINTING!"

Suki rested her camera on the table. "If this press conference is invitation-only, how did you find out about it?"

"I subscribe to a Web site that leaks that kind of information," Angus said. "It's run by personal assistants and gophers. Poor things, they have to make a living somehow."


Excerpted from The Portrait of Doreene Gray by Esri Allbritten. Copyright © 2012 Esri Allbritten. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

ESRI ALLBRITTEN is the author of Chihuahua of the Baskervilles, the first book in this series. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.

ESRI ALLBRITTEN lives in Boulder, Colorado. She is the author of Chihuahua of the Baskervilles, which was published by Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books. In addition to her writing, she enjoys sushi, bowling and madrigals.

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The Portrait of Doreene Gray: A Chihuahua Mystery 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Barb_the_Yooper More than 1 year ago
This second installment in Esri Albritten's Chihuahua series doesn't disappoint. Continuing to use classic literature as a jumping-off point, the author weaves quirky yet believable characters, vividly depicted settings and landscapes and masterful plotting into a delicious and delightful book. More, please!
Travveller More than 1 year ago
Funny, intriguing mystery. The repartee between the characters is highly amusing and fast-paced, and (for a change) I couldn't figure out whodunnit right up until the end. Highly-recommended.
Eilisflynn More than 1 year ago
Adorable, and I'm not even that fond of Chihuahuas!