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Peter Helton. Carroll & Graf Publishers, $25 (253pp) ISBN 978-0-7867-1529-9

Art imitates life imitating art in this appealing mystery debut from British author Helton, a painter who writes about a PI who happens to be a painter. Chris Honeysett runs Aqua Investigations from his cottage in Bath, England, along with his live-in apprentice, Annis, and a freelance technogeek, Tim Bigwood, who smiles tolerantly when people call him Mr. Bigfoot. Because his old car needs work, Chris takes on several cases at once. Then a school chum of Annis's pleads for help, a woman who claims to be a location finder for BBC producers wafts in and out and a close friend of Chris's is found stabbed to death. Several of these disparate threads eventually hook together, but it's a lot for readers to follow, and the two main storylines never connect. Helton turns a neat phrase, has a great ear for dialogue and tosses in just the right amount of erudite wit, but with so much emphasis on plot, few of the many characters come alive. If Helton can add a bit of self-discipline to his obvious strengths and create just one cohesive plot, his second novel will be something to look forward to.