I’ve reviewed several Michael McBride titles in the past, enjoying the vast majority of them. His latest book (or one of his latest, I should say, since his prolificity — yes, it’s a word — continues to astonish me), The Coyote, published by Thunderstorm Books, marks a fairly significant departure in some ways for McBride. Gone are the unusual creatures or perils that often populate his stories; gone are the scientist-type protagonists and somewhat science-fictional underpinnings that he frequently employs. Instead, we have an FBI agent tracking a very human serial killer. But while some of the trappings may be different, McBride’s strengths remain: superb pacing, engaging plot developments, and strong, non-stereotyped characters. The resulting novel is one of McBride’s very best works.
The protagonist is half-Native-American FBI agent Lukas Walker, whose cynical, world-weary view helps lend the tale a noir-ish tone, despite its setting in the wide-open sun-baked desert, as succinctly captured in the following passage:
I shivered despite the warmth of the night and stared out over the valley to the east. The Amnesty Trail. An endless stream of victims. Infinite places to hide. The American Dream. The Valley of Death.
Walker has been called to the Tohono O’odham reservation in Arizona, a hot spot for illegal immigrants crossings into the U.S. due to its thirty-six miles of unfenced border. Walker has come to investigate a murder that left no corpse, but a great deal of blood, purposely painted on a canyon wall. He forms a somewhat uneasy alliance with the strangely impassive tribal police Chief Ray Antone, who keeps his personal history and certain other details to himself while at the same time seeking to educate Walker on tribal history and legends. Enduring the Chief’s machinations and the scorching heat, Walker maintains a grim, wry sense of humor, as evidenced here:
The chief’s squad car was like a sauna. He smirked every time I toggled the AC switch. I was starting to think of it as a stick I used to poke the midget who lived under the hood, prompting him to blow his rank breath through a straw and into the vents. This kind of heat does strange things to your brain, as I was starting learn. I saw lakes on the horizon, but we never seemed to reach them as they poured off the edge of the earth.
As Walker’s investigation proceeds, more killings occur, and it quickly becomes apparent that he’s dealing with a serial killer, one who’s seemingly intent on playing a cat-and-mouse game with him. In the course of events, Walker — who had believed his personal connection to the Tohono O’odham nation was tenuous at best — learns some surprising facts about his past…and present.
McBride clearly performed a great deal of research in putting together this novel, and it shows — not in the form of massive info-dumps, as you’d find many writers resorting to, but rather via a gradual unveiling of details. The fascinating background info, the unique desert setting, and the compelling plot all combined to keep me deeply engrossed in the story. It’s also worth mentioning that the Thunderstorm hardcover is a beautiful artifact, with great overall design and production values, including four-color pages kicking off each chapter. All in all, The Coyote is a significant book, and comes highly recommended.