Filler content with a painted man

A review that originally appeared in Black Static #9:-

The Painted Man by Graham Masterton
(Severn House paperback, 218pp, £10.99)

Talented artist Molly Sawyer finds that her drawings of roses come to life, but before she and her psychic mother-in-law Sissy can reach any conclusions, Molly is called away to her job as a police sketch artist. A man has been butchered in an elevator and a young woman left for dead. She describes a red faced monster wielding a knife to Molly and the picture is circulated in the media, getting the killer the name Red Mask. More attacks follow and Molly’s services are called on again, only now there appear to be two identical maniacs terrorising Cincinnati, against whom the police and FBI are helpless. Sissy warns of bloodshed to follow, but her fortune telling De Vane cards can give her no real clues. Then the Sawyers realise the terrible truth about who the Red Mask killers are, and the only way in which they can be neutralised is to resurrect Sissy’s dead policeman husband.

This is a book about which I have very mixed feelings. It’s billed as ‘A Sissy Sawyer Mystery’ and is the second in what appears to be an ongoing series. As far as that goes, Sissy comes over as an older version of Medium’s Allison Dubois. The character is amiable enough, and a lot of the book’s strength comes from the family interaction and the depth given to her psychic activities. There is plenty of interest in the attitudes of other family members, both to the psychic side of things, where son Trevor is sceptical, and the implications of bringing back Sissy’s husband. The Red Mask attacks are described in a lively and exciting manner, graphic enough to chill the reader but not gratuitous.

The reservations I have concern the plot, in that so much of it seems obvious or simply not thought out. Molly discovers her paintings come to life. For most people the normal reaction would be to start drawing objects with a pecuniary value, but that never occurs to these characters, and the explanation we are eventually given for Molly’s newfound talent seems like a plot convenience of the first water, something that might have cut the mustard in a supernatural-lite show like Charmed, but seems wholly misplaced in a novel where people are being gruesomely slaughtered. As to Red Mask, I guessed the explanation for his appearance almost immediately, but it took the characters almost half the book to catch on, and that explanation brings further problems, which I can’t elaborate on without committing the cardinal sin of dropping a plot spoiler or two. I also guessed what really happened with the original attack, which again left the characters puzzled.

There’s an ethical dimension to the book which wasn’t satisfactorily explored at all. The actions of some of the characters, albeit unintended, caused the deaths of more than forty people, but this doesn’t seem to give anyone a second’s pause. The character who is the most culpable gets away with the equivalent of a slap on the wrist, which doesn’t really sit well with me. Yes, in practical terms nothing can be done, as the supernatural is not recognised in a court of law, but all the same I would expect the characters to manifest some show of regret or guilt, even while recognising that it wasn’t really their fault. Their apparent indifference makes me care all the less about them, which is not good for an ongoing series.

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