Belly laughs are all over the place in Larissa Reinhart’s riotous Portrait of a Dead Guy. Set in a small Georgia town, local artist Cherry Tucker finds herself easel-deep in a murder case when she is commissioned to paint a “coffin portrait” of Dustin Branson, a young man who’s been murdered in the full bloom of his criminal career. Like many artists, Cherry lives in near-penury, so when she finds out another artist is trying to hijack her commission, she breaks into the funeral home to finish the dead man’s portrait first—thus getting the jump on the competition. Instead, she’s caught breaking and entering, and the county sheriff—her uncle—is faced with the prospect of arresting his favorite niece.
The tone of this marvelously cracked book is not unlike Sophie Littlefield’s brilliant A Bad Day for Sorry, as author Reinhart dishes out shovelfuls of ribald humor and mayhem. It takes a rare talent to successfully portray a beer-and-hormone-addled artist as a sympathetic and worthy heroine, but Reinhart pulls it off with tongue-in-cheek panache. Cherry is a loveable riot, whether drooling over the town’s hunky males, defending her dysfunctional family’s honor, or snooping around murder scenes. Southerners (and I am one) know that funerals are often attended by feuding clans and that emotions can run riot. Reinhart upholds that fine old Southern tradition in the funniest scene in a very funny book when a brawl breaks out at Dustin’s memorial service, and the dearly departed is knocked out of his casket to land.... Oh, well, better not give away too much.