New York, 1893, and society portrait painter Piero Piambo feels his artistic ambition waning, even while he immortalizes the city's nouveaux riches in oil paints. But then he receives a bizarre and lucrative commission to paint the mysterious Mrs Charbuque. The catch is that he is not allowed to see her, and so Piambo sits before a screen as his sitter tells him of her life, dreams, and fears -- clues from which he must divine her visage.
As he works, a series of murders plagues the city -- deaths that at first seem accidental. And, as Piambo's masterpiece takes shape, his relationship with Mrs Charbuque grows ever more tangled while her deranged husband becomes hell-bent on some inexplicable vengeance.
Jeffrey Ford is a professor of writing and early American literature in New Jersey. His debut novel, The Physiognomy, was the winner of the 1998 World Fantasy Award. He is also the author of Memoranda, The Beyond and The Portrait of Mrs Charbuque.