Title: The Bisti Business (A BJ Vinson Mystery)
Author: Don Travis
Publisher: DSP Publications
Length: 310 Pages
At a Glance: Buckle up, folks—this is the next book in what’s shaping up to be a killer series!
Reviewed By: Ben
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.
Review: Book two in the BJ Vinson mysteries is an excellent standalone—you don’t need to have The Zozobra Incident under your belt before you get into the second. However, they’re both awesome, so why not start with the first?
The series isn’t cute. It isn’t cuddly. Confidential Investigator BJ Vinson (BJ to anyone who doesn’t want to get on his bad side) is a class-act guy who loves a good challenge, but he almost doesn’t take the case this time. BJ makes no secret about being gay, so when his client starts in with a gay slur on their phone consult, BJ’s two seconds from hanging up. In an odd twist, the client admits that he not only knew of BJ’s sexual predilections but that BJ being gay is why he sought him out for the job in the first place. Annoyed, but admittedly intrigued, BJ gives the man a few more minutes to explain himself. Turns out, the bigoted client’s son, Lando, is missing, and Lando went missing with another man… a man Lando’s father suspects of being his son’s lover.
Out of a sense of duty, BJ accepts the case but soon finds himself in the middle of nightmarish killers, corporate executives who think they own the world, and a few meddling but well intentioned civilians. Navigating who’s who is a constant challenge and tests the very limits of BJ’s professionalism.
One of my favorite aspects of this book was the plot. It was tight and pretty evenly paced. On the other side of that, there wasn’t a ton of character development or exploration into the side relationships established in book one. Despite being a minor character in this book, I wanted to see more of Del Dahlman, a hilarious fancy pants playboy who has sort of a unique friendship/business relationship with BJ. I would have also liked to see more of BJ’s boyfriend, Paul. Paul’s pretty simple and adorable, but I love how he brings out the softer—and sometimes harder!—sides to BJ. Maybe next time.
Whether or not I learned anything new about BJ in this book is a tossup. He’s the same heroic, noble, and ‘straight-acting’ man I’ve known and loved. He tells it as it is, and isn’t above pulling out his fists when he needs to, but normally has an easy-going demeanor about him. Conversely, he can also get pretty fucking scary. He’s incredibly intelligent and talented but is somewhat humbled by a gunshot wound sustained while on the force. And he has a motherly figure as his secretary, who doesn’t let him get away with his cheeky nonsense. BJ’s driving factor is his desire to help out those who need him, but only when he allows himself to become vulnerable is he able to achieve the level of mastery necessary.
Another major theme in the novel centers around gay men who act effeminate. There was brutal effeminate gay bashing by the ‘bad guys’ in this novel, and while some of them got what they deserved, BJ was curiously silent in his musings on the subject. Normally I’m not one who needs to be spoon fed information, however… BJ and his boyfriend aren’t effeminate, and in every book BJ receives comments from straight men remarking how BJ doesn’t ‘act gay’ or ‘sound gay’ or even ‘dress gay’. We also know BJ joined the marines in his youth to prove to himself that he could be just as manly as the next foolhardy kid, but he doesn’t once weigh in on whether effeminate gays should be considered ‘lesser’ to other gay men.
Admittedly there’s an unspoken message in the series that super homophobic men are probably somewhat gay too, but that’s not the same thing as denigrating men for their manliness deficiency, and I honestly I found the lack of support for effeminate men mightily perturbing. I sincerely hope BJ gets thrown into the middle of a case full of drag queens in the next book. [Hear that, Travis? Drag queens—a million of them. Wouldn’t hurt if you put BJ in a dress either. Maybe for charity. Please and thank you.]
Besides the concerning themes, there seems to be an odd generational inconsistency in the series. BJ’s my age (living in the early 2000’s) and yet he makes odd comments about kids these days with their ‘britches around their ankles’. There’s also a curious absence of persistent technology in his world, especially considering he’s a man with quite a bit of money. In other words, this book read more like a 90’s historical than a contemporary novel. Admittedly, in the early 2000s our level of technology was just starting to take off, but then again, BJ seems fairly tech savvy and he has the means to afford all the latest gizmos. I’ve considered the odd historical vibe could be due to the setting of the story, which is New Mexico. I haven’t visited New Mexico much, but it seems to have an Old West feel. Maybe that’s what I’m sensing.
While I enjoyed the characters more in the first novel, I enjoyed the plot more in this one. It felt better mapped out, more grounded. It wasn’t as fantastic. I liked traveling around New Mexico, seeing the national parks. In my mind’s eye, I could envision the landscape as BJ flew over it in a helicopter. Fascinating.
I completely recommend the series and have given both novels five stars. It’s been twenty years since I’ve allowed myself to become entangled in another never-ending mystery series, but I’m more than ready to take the plunge again. Bring it on, Travis.
You can buy The Bisti Business here: