Author John Dufresne’s first foray into crime fiction delivers an edgy, dialogue-rich tale reminiscent of Elmore Leonard and Charles Willeford.
Best known for novels such as “Louisiana Power & Light” and “Love Warps the Mind a Little,” Dufresne shows an affinity for creating complicated, yet realistic characters in “No Regrets, Coyote.”
But Dufresne, who teaches creative writing in the master’s program at Florida International University, falls short in the action scenes and a protracted finale. The titular Coyote is Wylie Melville, a therapist who doubles as a volunteer forensic consultant because of his ability to read a crime scene.
“I’m able to find essence in particulars,” he said. Wylie is asked by his old friend Detective Sgt. Carlos O’Brien with the Eden, Fla., police department to view a violent crime scene. Local restaurateur Chafin Halliday killed his wife and three children before committing suicide. The police want Wylie to sign off on the murder-suicide so they can close the case. But Wylie believes the killings look staged and that the typed suicide note is phony.
Wylie’s insight has never failed him, but he is too distracted by family problems to focus on the crime. His father’s Alzheimer’s has escalated and his emotionally fragile sister blames everyone, especially Wylie, for her troubles. Wylie doesn’t realize how he is being easily manipulated by his patients, his friends and his family or that he has become embroiled in a morass of political and police corruption, lawyers with Ponzi schemes and the Russian mob. The intriguing plot’s twists work well, but the action scenes don’t gel and the ending isn’t as crisp as the rest of the novel.
Although he sets “No Regrets, Coyote” in a fictional town and county, Dufresne illustrates the intricacies of Florida’s scenery and its wide range of residents. Eden could be located in any part of the state and fit right in, even Dania Beach where Dufresne lives.
Dufresne invests that same care in his characters. Wylie and his family bring both pathos and humor to the plot, as do best friend Bay Lettique, a con artist who knows his way around the poker table and mobsters, and a squatter who takes up residence in Coyote’s backyard because it seems like a safe place.