Picture Perfect by Shirley Harrison
(Arabesque/BET, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-58314-002-6
***
"The sins of the fathers"...have a devastating impact on four families in Picture Perfect. Atlanta author Shirley Harrison's debut novel is an ambitious undertaking. It is a compelling story of love and family loyalties.

Artist Davina Spenser's life has been a lie. Her terminally ill father confessed to Davina and her brother that he was not James Spenser. He was really the infamous painter, Maceo James.

Several years before his children were born, Maceo had severely beaten a man in Atlanta. The man was "a well-known patron of the cabaret club where Maceo's girlfriend sang was beaten -- horribly. The man was left for dead; and if things weren't bad enough, he was white...the patron had raped the singer some days before and Maceo, in love with the woman, had been set on revenge."

After the man died, Maceo went into hiding. During the same time, his work began to be noticed. Maceo's notoriety increased the value of his paintings. Most of those paintings were entrusted to Maceo's best friend, businessman Jacob Hardy. The paintings were Davina's and David's legacy.

Unfortunately, Jacob Hardy died before the Spenser siblings could contact him. Former stockbroker Justin Hardy reluctantly has taken over as CEO of the family business. Justin, his family and the Hardy Enterprises board doubt the validity of the Spensers' claim. The artwork represents a substantial part of the corporate holdings.

David, a lawyer, suggests a conservative approach to pursuing thier claim with the Hardys; Davina takes matters into her own hands. Her actions immediately put her on a collision course with Justin Hardy.

Picture Perfect is a story of conflicting loyalties and legacies. It explores the power of the relationships between fathers and their children. Despite their mutual attraction, Davina's and Justin's allegiances are to their families. Blood is thicker than mud. However, their attraction to each other does strange things to their lust to trust ratios.

Picture Perfect is an interesting book that delves behind the scenes of the art world. It is not, however, for the faint of heart or those with short attention spans. It is a big book 400-plus pages in small type. It could be pared down by 25 to 30 percent without destroying the basic integrity of the plot.

However, the patient and persistent reader will be rewarded. Half way through the novel, Picture Perfect shifts into overdrive and becomes a page-turner. There is a murder to be solved. The clues obvious and not-so combine with red herrings along the way. There are enough jealousies, betrayals and tacky ex-lovers to season the mix. It is interesting to watch Davina and Justin discover the truth from separate and unequal paths.

The novel contains a few stutter-starts that plague many new authors. In addition, the resolution is not clean; there are still unanswered questions. But Shirley Harrison tells a good story. There is a secondary relationship that might blossom into a romance and spin-off.

Shirley Harrison's romance writing career is off to good start with Picture Perfect. And, despite its flaws, it's worth a look.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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