The Last Coyote - Michael Connelly

"Coyote is always out there waiting, and Coyote is always hungry."

--Navajo saying

 

~~Moved from GR~~

 

The Last Coyote

by Michael Connelly

 

After being on the cusp of mental breakdown for years, Bosch has finally lost it. After comparatively minor provocation (but tangentially related to his mother), Bosch puts his superior's head through a glass wall. Since this is Bosch, it doesn't end his career, but his superiors are, to say the least, concerned. Forced onto involuntary leave, he begins to look into the crime that has haunted him since childhood: his mother's murder. This excruciatingly painful and personal case leads Bosch into the darkness of the past and causes him to cross more lines than ever before. It's a powerful, agonizing, and gripping story, and I couldn't put it down until I reached the last page.

However, I was left with troubling doubts about the series. Maybe I read it is just that any book was bound to be a letdown after The Concrete Blonde. Much of the plot of Last Coyote centers around Bosch's explosive and unrestrained temper, but to me, this characterization seemed contradictory. Bosch seemed to always be burning with inner anger and pain, but always under tight control. His childhood memory of being pulled out of the swimming pool to be informed of his mother's death exemplified his general demeanour. Hearing the news, he dove deep into the dark waters, letting the depths swallow his screams and the water hide his tears. This is the guy who, in the last book, sat calmly, his face a mask, as he was accused of murder and scheming and called a monster. Bosch's previous actions made him seem someone who controlled and used his pent-up anger, releasing it in calculated bursts. But according to this story, he's had a "problem" with his "unrestrained temper" this whole time.

Isolation and loss are major themes of this story. However, while I was drawn into the story, this sudden isolation felt scripted and unnatural to me. The desertion of Bosch's love interest, Sylvia, is essentially unexplained--except it is thematically convenient. I feel Connelly has a pattern of treating women as plot devices rather than characters: in each book, a female character is introduced to provide reactions and explication in accordance to the story's theme. This female is then discarded between books, obviating any necessity of any female character development. One of the series' major themes is Bosch's repudiation of the way society treats outcasts and prostitutes. It is therefore rather ironic that Connelly exploits his female characters to develop these themes and disposes of them as soon as they are no longer useful.

I found Bosch especially flawed in this book. While a rounded and empathetic antihero, he deeply driven, and his problematic ethical code causes him to make terrible mistakes that have drastic consequences. This book adds new facets to his character by exploring the past he has repressed. But it hit me that he hasn't grown as a character; he's regressed. I'm tired of his apparent desire to alienate everyone around him and troubled and repulsed by his willingness to let ends justify means. This was a hard book to read, not least because so much of Bosch's pain, so much of his isolation, is due his own self-destructive behaviour. Tangentially, the way this book turned all the symbolism and metaphor into straightforward statements from a psychologist made the conclusions feel forced and superficial to me. I loved the relationship developing between Bosch and Irving, but I was irritated by Bosch's antagonism towards a man who has repeatedly stuck his neck out for Bosch. The two characters act as foils: while Bosch rampages towards his own goals and ignores the damage his actions inflict on others, Irving is the voice of practicality and law: a bureaucrat who cynically weighs the cost of his choices. Bosch repeatedly declares that his actions in pursuit of justice for the dead are "right," despite any illegality or cost to innocents. I was left with the sense that, despite grief at the consequence of his actions, Bosch would not rethink his path. It is not just that Bosch doesn't trust the system; he believes that the rules do not apply to him. Despite the opportunities this book provided for self-evaluation, I was left with an unsatisfying sense that Bosch was confirmed in his belief that he had the right to act as judge, jury, and executioner in the pursuit of his own ideal of justice. And like the last coyote, he isolates himself, condemns himself to a life alone, hungry for justice, waiting for an inner peace that can never be achieved.