Reviewed by Ulysses Dietz
Member of The Paranormal Romance Guild Review Team
This is a surprisingly old-fashioned detective story, and just the latest in a long series featuring B.J. Vinson. Each book stands alone, so I had no trouble settling into the story and its intriguing setting—Albuquerque, which brings with it a sense of place nicely exploited by the author. Set in 2012, the story begins with B.J. Vinson visiting an imprisoned mobster near Santa Fe. Puzzled by the request of a man he put away to solve the murder of his nephew, B.J. realizes that it’s his status as a confidential investigator and former policeman that is the key. The more he learns about the murdered young man—Matteo Zapata—the more he understands his employer’s motivations.
As this single, ugly murder of a handsome young man emerges as part of a larger investigation by the Albuquerque Police Department, B.J. begins to dig deeper, hoping to unearth the identity of a clever yet reckless murderer dubbed the Cutie-Pie Killer.
B.J. has a good team to help him, as well as a good working relationship with the local police—two things that set him apart from the usual private eye in books like this. He is also helped by his substantially younger life-partner, a rising journalist named Paul Barton. Paul, like B.J., is a local boy from a well-known family. He and B.J. play golf at the local country club and have a lot of money, which helps fund their well-staffed office.
There is a matter-of-factness to the author’s writing that suits the personality of his main character. Vinson, only forty, is an ex-marine and an ex-cop. He’s a man’s man, but seems to hold no internal doubts about his own sexuality or his love for Paul. His strong sense of justice pushes him through the not-always-gripping work of being a detective, always keeping in mind the lost lives of young men who seem to be tripped up by circumstances that bring them to the killer’s notice.
Ultimately, what makes this book such a good read is that it is not so much the discovery of a killer that drives the plot, but the constant effort to prove that a suspect is the right one. There are some carefully crafted hair-raising moments, but the author’s goal seems to be to get the reader into Vinson’s head. It’s a curiously effective means of storytelling, and depends on our admiration of Vinson as a good man trying simply to do the best he can to make the world safer. In this, “The Cutie-Pie Murders” brought to mind the David Brandstetter books of Joseph Hansen. They don’t suffer by the comparison, and I think I’m going to have to read a few more of these.