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Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Zozobra Incident and the Bisti Business by Don Travis

Two book reviews in one post!

The Zozobra Incident (BJ Vinson Mystery #1)  four stars

The jacket blurb:
B J Vinson, a former Albuquerque police detective turned confidential investigator, hesitates when ex-lover and now prominent attorney Del Dahlman appeals to him for help in recovering some incriminating photographs of him and the hustler who broke up their relationship. BJ reluctantly agrees to find Emilio Prada, the handsome gigolo who's been using the photographs to impress his clientele-men and women from all strata of Albuquerque society-thinking he'll put the case to rest in a matter of days. However, things turn deadly with a high-profile murder at the Burning of Zozobra on the opening night of the Santa Fe Fiesta, and B J becomes embroiled in a search for missing negatives, a ruthless murderer, and a way to save himself from being next on the killer's list.

This was a very enjoyable first book, introducing a handful of well rounded supporting characters from Hazel, his no-nonsense office assistant; Del, his ex for reasons that are well explained; Paul, the new love interest; and Emilio, the hustler who started it all. 

The mystery builds quite nicely - Emilio has/had pictures that Del wants back to keep his reputation win tack with his law firm and the potential partnership that's on the line.  But the negatives have disappeared.  For BJ, getting those pictures becomes a matter of hunting down who saw them, and when, and the stakes in retrieving them steadily rise with the body count.  When the attempts on BJ's life start to get serious, BJ knows he's close to figuring it all out.  But only if he can keep himself, Del and Paul alive to do so. 

Several things I enjoyed about this: 
a)  BJ has no problems working with the local police, and the police don't have a problem helping him.  There is a bit of keeping things close to the chest, but much of the animosity that I find between detectives and PI's (oh heck, between detectives and their own men in blue) wasn't there.  I really appreciated reading about that level cooperation - very refreshing. 

b) Not your typical love interest/romance.  Our protagonist is not trying to get between the sheets of the female love interest.  In fact, BJ's interest in Paul is completely separate from the murder mystery up to a point - which made for a nice counterpoint to the mystery and helped build BJ's character.  

c) I really enjoyed the setting in New Mexico.  

d) I already mentioned this, but I liked the cast of characters, even BJ's neighbor lady.  Nobody fell into stereotypical molds.  Nicely done! 

Lots of positives.  There were a few small loose ends not quite tidied up, but I'll put that down as my quirk more so than a downside of the story.  Overall, a solid and engaging read. 

The Bisti Business by Don Travis  (BJ Vinson Mystery #2)  five stars

The jacket blurb:  
Although repulsed by his client, an overbearing, homophobic California wine mogul, confidential investigator B. J. Vinson agrees to search for Anthony Alfano’s missing son, Lando, and his traveling companion—strictly for the benefit of the young men. As BJ chases an orange Porsche Boxster all over New Mexico, he soon becomes aware he is not the only one looking for the distinctive car. Every time BJ finds a clue, someone has been there before him. He arrives in Taos just in time to see the car plunge into the 650-foot-deep Rio Grande Gorge. Has he failed in his mission?

Lando’s brother, Aggie, arrives to help with BJ’s investigation, but BJ isn’t sure he trusts Aggie’s motives. He seems to hold power in his father’s business and has a personal stake in his brother’s fate that goes beyond familial bonds. Together they follow the clues scattered across the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness area and learn the bloodshed didn’t end with the car crash. As they get closer to solving the mystery, BJ must decide whether finding Lando will rescue the young man or place him directly in the path of those who want to harm him.

This could be read as a standalone, but I recommend reading the first in the series to establish the main character’s background.

I will also state I did not realize this was a 2nd Edition until I started this review and thus do not know how it compares to the original and any changes the author/publisher may have made.

Lastly, the book does reference and clearly describes a male rape scene as part of the investigation, which may be objectionable to some.

The disclaimers out of the way, I can get down to the nitty gritty – if you enjoy Tony Hillerman mysteries, you will probably enjoy this series and The Bisti Business in particular. While not as in depth with the Navajo and Hopi cultures, these touch on more of the northwest New Mexico area and I love how the author draws the reader into this vast and formidable landscape.

Premise of the book is BJ reluctantly accepts a missing person’s case – a wealthy California wine mogul’s son has disappeared in the Shiprock area of New Mexico with his boyfriend. As BJ digs into the case and the bodies start piling up in gullies, arroyo’s and car trunks, BJ begins to suspect this issue isn’t so cut and dried and the missing son may be in greater peril if he’s found.

This is not a romance book – there are romantic elements (so sweet too!)- but the theme of the book is a missing person murder mystery with gay elements. I thought this was well executed by the author and a very welcome change of pace from the majority of gay romance books in publication AND a VERY refreshing change of pace from the run of the mill mystery books. .

As a reader who reads a lot of mysteries, I would also like to commend Mr. Travis with his portrayal of the inter-agency cooperation. Way too many mysteries have agencies butting heads or being obtuse and difficult with the leading investigator, refusing to cooperate, not wanting to share information, threatening the investigator – you know the books. So it was incredibly refreshing to read about local police working with the BLM and the FBI and including (with a few grumbles) the private investigator. I’m not saying it was a perfect relationship, there was enough chaffing to keep the plot interesting, but it wasn’t the dripping animosity I’m used to reading. Bravo!

The mystery itself was straight forward and has enough red herrings that it wasn’t immediately obvious “who done it”. This kept me happily engaged all the way to the end to have my guesses and suspicions answered. I won’t tell you if I was right tho…

And if I haven’t convinced you yet to read this series, I will that I greatly enjoy the cast of characters the author has developed. We meet Paul, Hazel, and Charlie in book one, and they make an appearance here. In San Juan County we add Aggie, Joe, Dix, and the intriguing and flirtatious Jazz. A diverse and interesting cast of characters that helped to round out a solidly written book.

(The review for A Bisti Business has been cross posted at Goodreads and Gay Book Reviews).  

Picture from = Shiprock, New Mexico

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