The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque By Jeffrey Ford

“I began life wanting to create something as beautiful as this, but all my time and energy, all my talent, has gone to waste. Now I can only build machines of death for money. I have won battles and in the process lost my soul.”

The toast of 1893 New York society, the portraitist Piero Piambo has his pick of choice assignments. Acclaimed by his peers and his “betters,” he is a fixture in the city’s most opulent salons, yet he fears he has sold his soul to arrive there.

He is at the unveiling of his most recent painting, a portrait of a Mrs Reed.

While she’s sat beside it, Piambo realises he has painted her considerably better looking than she is in reality.

However, as the night draws on and Piambo becomes steadily more drunk, he realises what it is he’s immortalised in his portrait of Mrs Reed.

He realises as he goes to leave that he’s captured the cruel nature of Mr. Reed’s relationship with his timid wife.

The facility of vision he had trained for so many years to see into the souls of those who sat for him suddenly engaged.

He beheld a pale, mortally weary woman in the clutches of a vampire.

He needed a new project…

But then comes a commission unlike any other — one that will test Piambo’s talents, his will…and his sanity.

The client is a Mrs. Charbuque, and the offer she makes to the artist is as bizarre and intriguing as it is financially rewarding.

Piambo must paint the lady’s portrait, and for the service he may name any price. However, though he may question her at length on any topic, he must never look upon his subject. And if the painting ends up a true likeness, his payment will be doubled.

While he struggles to capture in oils the face of a woman he has never seen, a series of horrific and inexplicable deaths rocks the outside city.

On street corners, in the alleys off the bustling shopping areas, and between the crumbling tenements, anonymous women are dying, their lifeblood flowing freely like tears from their eyes.

The deeper Piambo is drawn into Mrs. Charbuque’s world, the more he begins to suspect that these terrible events, his impossible task, and his odd “benefactress” are somehow intimately connected.

Praise for Jeffrey Ford:

“Jeffrey Ford is a fascinatingly unconventional writer.” – Locus

“A modern allegory in the manner of Franz Kafka.” The New York Times

“Seriously, logically, stunningly surreal: a compact, richly-textured, enthralling fantasy debut.” Kirkus Review

Jeffrey Ford is an American author who writes fantasy, science fiction and mystery. His stories and novels have been translated into over 20 different languages worldwide. Ford has been a recipient of the Nebula Award, The Fountain Award, The Grand Prix de L’Imaginaire, The Edgar Allan Poe Award, and the World Fantasy Award. He lives in New Jersey, where he teaches Writing and Literature at Brookdale Community College. His other works with Venture Press include The Physiognomy, Memoranda, and The Beyond.

 

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