Victor Gischler’s latest novel is ripped from the old noir novels Gold Medal published back in the 1960s. Those books molded a generation of readers and writers that still succumb to tales of crime, criminals, and heroes who get their hands dirty while doing a violent job by their own rules.
As with his earlier novels, Gischler writes about Oklahoma, but Coyote Crossing is so far back in the woods that most people in the state never notice it on the map. Toby Sawyer is a twenty-five year old part-time deputy living the life of a total slacker. He’s also got the requisite blue-collar life for living in small town Oklahoma: a wife that doesn’t really love him, a young son he loves that forces him to grow up faster than he wants to, a trailer, and a souped-up rusting wreck of a car.
I grew up in towns like Coyote Crossing, and Gischler fairly describes the residents and the environment. It’s depressing in some instances, as the author intends, but it also reminds me a lot of how hard you have to work to get out of such places, and why life-long residents live there.
The murder of Luke Jordan, a member of an outlaw clan that’s lived in Coyote Crossing forever, jump starts the novel into overdrive. I liked the fact that Toby reported for duty, wearing his deputy’s badge pinned to a Weezer shirt and that his .38 kept dragging his sweatpants down if he tried to hook it there.
Immediately, things take a turn for the worse while Toby’s out cheating on his wife when he’s supposed to be guarding the body of the murder victim. At the beginning, I really thought about giving up on the book because Toby was such an unsympathetic character and the murder didn’t look all that interesting.
Then Gischler turns up the heat. No matter where he is in his life and his fidelity, Toby is a good daddy, and he’s dead-set on taking care of his son. I liked that about him. I hung onto that one redeeming quality, which I’m sure was deliberately fostered by Gischler, and got sucked in by the challenges that mounted in front of Toby.
In no time at all, I was rooting for Toby as he went up against Mexican gangsters, crooked deputies inside his own department, and the Jordan clan as they rode into town looking for vengeance. The whole book takes place in the space of about twelve hours, and the pacing makes it impossible to put down as Toby’s violent world escalates to total meltdown.
Gischler planned this novel to a T. The plot twists and curves whipcrack the reader into submission and shred any hope of putting the book down until the last page is turned and the gunsmoke haze finally thins. His girlfriend’s screwed-up relationship with her step-dad is used throughout the book, as is the step-dad’s eighteen-wheeler in ways other than for which it was intended. Everything dovetails into a tight package at the end.
The style of the novel is awesome in that it mirrors the old, pared-down to the bone presentation of those Gold Medal novels I mentioned. People who like Robert B. Parker will enjoy this book, although the hero isn’t as pure or as polished as Spenser. However, people looking for deep characterization or deep thinking moments aren’t going to find that here. The Deputy is a polished marble slab of noir violence and paranoia that never lets up, a chokehold that won’t let go until the reader is down and out.