In his third mystery adventure, queer special agent Bradford Fairfax takes on assassins with designs on Céline Dion in Puerto Vallarta.
Vanished in Vallarta is wickedly funny and resplendent with colourful queer characters, antic pratfalls and plot-twisting double-crosses.
Jeffrey Round employs a familiar setting, the resort town (his two previous mysteries took place in P-Town and Key West), where Fairfax and his beau, Zach, enjoy the best of the queer party scene — until someone dispatches a fellow agent. The red-herring-filled mystery begins.
Among the clubbing scene’s cornucopia of suspects are a silver-haired yacht captain, a drag queen purportedly channelling the dead and the effete Jarod Scythes in his billowy-armed shirts. Such is Round’s fodder. Like a rare breed of twink, the Fairfax adventure is an attractive package that boasts sharp intelligence.
Round manages to work in ominous allusions to the perils of gay nightlife, one of his simmering themes, but his humour remains constant. In one scene, Fairfax is reprimanded by his boss, Grace, a female version of Charlie from Charlie’s Angels, whom he has never met.
“Good,” she concludes. “Now get back on that beach and mingle.”
This time out, Round attempts some physical comedy. Several characters, the hero included, try to procure a burgundy garment bag. Fairfax’s efforts land him in the compromising position of hiding under a bed while two studs romp. He recalls a childhood neighbour who sang Paul McCartney songs off-key.
“For some reason, the experience had made Brad realize early on that he wanted to be gay when he grew up.”
Chuckles aside, the character development of boyfriend Zach is the most enjoyable of the story’s serious aspects. A sort of New Age Robin to Fairfax’s cynical Batman, Zach feeds morsels of Buddhist teaching to his man, including the concept of chakras. Fairfax, armed with a mini-pharmacy of beauty products, often comes off as a self-absorbed worrywart. He’s lucky to have Zach, even when Zach passionately lectures him on topics like the existence of Atlantis.
Fairfax has a rougher time in Vallarta than in previous outings: Grace keeps him in the dark about his assignment, he encounters a gorgeous old flame named Little Wing, and Zach leaves on a vision quest.
His ensuing test of faith makes one long for the Brian Kinney (of Queer as Folk) school of clearing things up: sleep with everybody and don’t apologize. In the end, though, a crisis of the heart humanizes this lone wolf.
Fairfax, for all his skills, becomes hopelessly enmeshed in a quagmire of vested interests, intrigue and double-double-crosses that untangle at the unpredictable and complicated climax. Unfortunately, what could have been a knockdown, drag-out scuffle is instead reduced to a quick resolution.
But, given Vallarta’s wit, insight and sense of fun, not to mention suspense imbued with a sense of magic (thanks largely to Zach), one looks forward to Round’s next installment.