Anthony Bidulka has a fine ongoing saga in Russell Quant, and while Dos Equis is not his strongest installment, the eighth mystery in the series certainly ranks among the most charming and reliably funny.
Building on the previous books, Bidulka creates a tableau of background characters, shifting his focus from his protagonist’s quandaries, romantic and otherwise.
For the uninitiated, Quant is a lovable, husky gay detective who lives in Saskatoon. His adventures invariably take him to exotic locales — Zihuatanejo, Mexico, in this instance. Having struck upon various romantic hardships in previous capers, Quant, at the beginning of Dos Equis, is just returned from a year-long sojourn at various friends’ vacation homes. He is also grieving over a recent breakup. Although the title refers to Quant’s two exes, his failed romances frame this new story.
As usual, in Bidulka’s richly described yarns, Quant’s close friends and family act as plot movers and foils. They draw reader sympathy in their unconditional support and demonstrate Quant’s love for those around him. He assembles his entourage for a sting operation to capture villain Frances Huber.
By dragging everyone into the act, Quant raises the tension and puts more focus on the minor characters, from the mysterious jet-setting Sereena Orion Smith, to ex-model Jared and high-end-menswear-shop-owner Anthony Gatt. The group includes his mother, Kay Quant, who perpetually threatens to cook up cream-laden Ukrainian fare. In order to throw off their quarry, Sereena portrays a modern-art aficionado, Jared an available, straight bachelor and Kay a chintzy sophisticate who speaks only in Ukrainian.
Bidulka’s snappy humour is exemplified not only through Kay’s dramatic hijinks, but also when describing his villain after she wins a bidding war. “The look on Frances’ face was nothing less than rapture. She was a cat with its mouse, Salome with John the Baptist’s head on a platter, Matthew McConaughey with an Academy Award.” Certainly, McConaughey’s detractors would appreciate this jab.
Quant also gets to contrast his own quirks with Jean-Paul Taine, an upstart queer detective. However, Bidulka misses opportunities in their romantic subplot. Quant is understandably attracted to the blond, handsome and shrewd investigator. However, their long-distance courting is more telling than showing — an allusion to emails, Skyping and SaskTel phone calls. When JP is in danger, Quant resolves the cliffhanger situation in a disappointing half-page.
Dos Equis’s successful showcase of supporting players sometimes steals breath from Quant’s potential romance. In the end, though, appealing humour and characters compensate for romantic shortcomings. In having Quant complete a year of soul-searching, Bidulka may have intentionally left open the door to an adventure from his travels. Anyone following Quant and his loveable, aggravating entourage would undoubtedly read that adventure, too.
But readers, beware — Bidulka’s books tend to bring out the bon vivant. His descriptions of pinot noirs and grilled dorado may have you running for the kitchen.