John Dufresne plumbs human nature for the best and the worst it can offer. Though No Regrets, Coyote begins with a gruesome crime—a family brutally murdered in Florida on Christmas Eve—it is the author’s melding of dialog, personality and character interactions that infuse his work with its particular energy.
Occasionally serving as a forensic consultant for his friend Detective Sergeant Carlos O’Brien of the Eden Police Department, Wylie “Coyote” Melville accompanies O’Brien to the scene of the crime. Bodies lie where they fell, children near a Christmas tree, presents partially opened, a typed suicide note nearby. At first glance, it appears a simple murder-suicide—that will be the official determination—but Wylie reserves judgment until he has time to reflect on any possible anomalies at the scene.
When Wylie reports the suspicious behavior of a detective at the crime scene to O’Brien, he makes an instant enemy, the inception of a pattern of harassment that will bring Melville in conflict with the law at every turn. Though he continues to report the incidents to O’Brien, nothing seems to deter his antagonist. Wylie turns to his friend Bay Lettique, a suave professional gambler and consummate illusionist who has contacts throughout Florida and with the underworld. This allows Wylie to investigate not only the players in the Halliday murder case but also a network of connected cops, a seed of suspicion growing around the easy resolution of the case.
The novel is character-driven, replete with an assortment of eccentric, unpredictable and outrageous personalities in a mystery that is inherently violent but also hilarious, compassionate and acerbic. Human nature dictates the trajectory of the plot. Certainly Wylie has learned the limitations of rationality in dealing with his patients as well as his extended family, including an emotionally extravagant sister and brother-in-law. Both siblings face the complications of a father suffering from Alzheimer’s and about to be expelled from care for increasingly erratic behavior. The Halliday murders are filtered through Wylie’s daily personal and professional life. His frequent meetings with Bay yield a number of interesting connections, from cops and politicians to the Russian mob, a frightening scenario of bad actors with questionable intentions. Wylie’s reports to Carlos do little to alleviate the increasing incidents of harassment, though O’Brien’s inattention may be explained by marital troubles.
In a flurry of entanglements, from quasi-romantic to the ongoing family drama and his father’s loosening grip on reality, Wylie applies himself to each situation as it occurs, including his reaction to the appearance of Red Soileau, a homeless man who has set up camp in his yard. The occasional morning coffee and conversation proves an opportunity to connect with a stranger who later becomes a friend. But this is the way things happen in the novel, a gradual blurring between lines bringing both innocent and malevolent together in unexpected ways—like in real life. Dufresne writes not in a stream of consciousness but the stream of life, seamlessly integrating both character and plot, human behavior ever unpredictable.
The reader is cautioned from the first page as Bay Lettique demonstrates his sleight of hand: “I tell you I’m going to lie to you and then I lie to you and you believe it. Because you want to believe.” Nothing is what it seems. The well-meaning psychologist, devoted brother and son, mediocre at romance, is an everyman caught in a maelstrom of criminal behavior. Menace lurks behind a façade of normalcy, murder perpetrated in paradise and fate the great leveler.