Painted Death: A Kira Logan Mystery
by J.C. Andrew
Westwood Books Publishing

"Some people think that the captain wasn’t just out fishing. It seems strange to many that, so far as is known, he had no clients with him on his trip and he was away too long."

In this first book of Andrew's art-themed mystery series, Kira Logan, an artist who also has a knack for helping solve murders, arrives in the small Alaskan coastal town of Raven Creek. She has been commissioned to lead the effort in creating a mural memorializing the many fisherman and boat captains who have been lost to the sea throughout Raven Creek's history. Early on, readers learn of the Halibut Hunter, a boat which has recently been lost at sea. The body of its captain, Jason, a respected fisherman in town, has now washed ashore. There is a bullet wound in his body, but, beyond that, almost nothing is known as to what might have happened to the crew of two on board. However, that fact does not stem the tide of rumor and speculation by the people of the small fishing community where, for better or worse, most residents know each other.

Preparations are underway for the construction and painting of the multi-paneled mural—an effort led by Kira, but which by town tradition will involve a large group of volunteers. This will occur during a music festival that temporarily swells the small town's population, as thousands are attracted from nearby areas for live musical performances, art and street vendors, crafts, and cuisine. A decision as to whether to include the Halibut Hunter in the mural (with its recent disappearance and rampant speculation around town that drug smuggling was involved in its demise) is ultimately given the green light. This proves to be very cathartic for the captain's children, as they are given the honor of painting his particular boat.

Before long—and smack dab in the middle of the week's art and music activities—there is a most unexpected murder in Raven Creek. Then, only days later, yet another gruesome murder occurs. In both cases, the bodies are dumped in and among machinery having to do with the small town's fish processing operations. Kira is exhausted after an exciting but tragic week making new friends as they have worked together to create the larger-than-life art piece to be hung on the side of a prominent shop. While the mural has been completed, there is no denying the strange tragedy of two unsolved (yet seemingly connected) murders that has befallen the small town during the same time. Toward the novel's end, Kira starts to put two and two together as she spends time with Owen Martin, a widower and well-respected gentleman in town who has helped coordinate the volunteers and pails of paint during the mural-making process. Things start to unravel with a simple accidental step of Kira crushing, without knowing it, a distinct earring which, for reasons yet unknown, has been left on the floor in Owen's ship, Raven's Witch, one evening as the two begin to strike up a romance.

Though most of the book is told from Kira's viewpoint, Andrew does utilize an interesting literary choice. Some chapters are presented from the perspective of other key characters central to the plot. This does not in the least distract the reader's attention, as the name of the new character who takes on the role of the narrator is clearly presented at the beginning of the chapter. This choice of added perspective, because it is used sparingly and intelligently by the author, rounds out the narrative nicely and achieves its intended effect. Another point worth making about the mystery novel is that Alaska, generally, and Raven Creek, in particular, are described in such gorgeous detail using imagery from the natural-world setting where Andrew's novel takes place, that the case could be made that this part of Alaska, itself, becomes another of the main characters in the book. Certain passages—especially at chapter openings—read like poetry and are painted like visual art by the author. In describing the natural beauty and specific landmark features of the coastal Alaskan environment, it is as though the reader has taken this sojourn right alongside Kira as she treks to the small town to work on the mural for which she has been commissioned.

The author's professional background also gives the tale some additional realism. Andrew, long a visual artist before diving into the world of mystery writing, has created numerous award-winning bronze and ceramic sculptures, weavings, watercolors, and oil paintings. Presently living in Sedona, AZ, she previously called Washington, DC, home and served as CNN's official courtroom sketch artist.

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