Thursday, June 16, 2016

Review: COYOTE

COYOTE by Colin Winnette (No Exit Press, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

A daughter disappears in the middle of the night. What happens in the aftermath of this tragedy - after the search is abandoned, after the TV crews move on to cover the latest horrific incident - is the story of Coyote. There is a marriage and a detective. There is a storm, a talk show host, and a roasted boar. People are murdered and things are hidden. Coyotes skulk in the woods, a man stands by the fence, and a tale emerges within this familiar landscape of the violent unknown.

Evocative? Affecting? Poignant? I'm struggling to find a pithy way to describe Colin Winnette's pocket-sized but powerful COYOTE: the words I think of either don't quite fit, or have lost much of their meaning as they've devolved into book reviewer cliches, often thrown about willy-nilly for weaker works.

Redolent, perhaps. Or maybe one of those classic Hollywood style tag-lines could nail things down better. For COYOTE, I'd go with "for fans of James Sallis or pre-Gone Girl Gillian Flynn".

I'm still not entirely sure what I think of COYOTE, but one thing is for sure; it has stuck with me. It's bleak and beautiful, a snapshot of tragedy and subsequent descent into madness. A sort of rural melancholia, harrowing in a way without being too overt about it. Things are not spelled out, there are loose ends aplenty. I imagine this would be the kind of book that some people will really love, and others just won't connect with - in both cases perhaps being left a little bewildered.

Fragmented, perhaps. While being tied together by a rich and unique authorial voice.

Winnette's prose has a spare elegance to it. The story flows quickly, while having moments that will gut-punch you, making you pause and re-read to drink it all in. The reader is given a lot of leeway to work things out for themselves as Winnette proffers vivid vignettes of an unnamed couple's faltering life following the disappearance of their daughter. We see things through the eyes of the mother, a woman who is unreliable and - surprisingly, given such a sympathy-generating tragedy - at times quite unsympathetic. But there's a fascination, while something sinister scuttles about out of sight.

Unsettling, definitely.

Whether you like this book or loathe it, I can't imagine you will forget it. It's the kind of crime novel that could create plenty of discussion and disagreement among aficionados. 'Enjoyed' may not quite be the right word, given its content and emotional impact, but overall I'm glad I read COYOTE, and as I look back on it a few days after reading it in near-one-sitting, my ratings needle oscillates between 'good' and 'extremely good'.

Winnette has crafted something quite masterful, even if it won't be for everyone.

Craig Sisterson is a features writer from New Zealand who writes for publications in several countries. He has interviewed more than 150 crime writers, discussed crime fiction at literary festivals and on radio, and is a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the founder and Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. Follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson 

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