A vagrant turned amateur sleuth investigates a murder in Coyote’s debut novel and series opener of the Homeless Detective Trilogy.
Murphy is a hapless drunk living on the streets of Venice, Calif. When his cherished Rottweiler, Betty, needs an expensive surgery, the former football player takes on the role of gumshoe to solve a local murder. He’ll need to solve the 6-month-old case within a week to claim a monetary reward for identifying the murderer and save his best friend. Coyote’s novel, its title reminiscent of books from authors such as Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane, is a play on film noir. While working against genre conventions has become the norm for some writers, Coyote ventures into new territory by unassumingly renovating the traditional qualities of film noir. Most detectives are slipped a mickey at some point, whereas Murphy is almost perpetually drunk, and concussions from his football days cause him to black out. It seems he’s slipping the mickey to himself, especially when he’s drinking Mickey’s Fine Malt Liquor. The seedy underworld is one with upscale restaurants and a gay bar called Pufferfish, and the femme fatale is a yoga instructor. The murder, however, is incidental, and the novel is in top form during scenes highlighting Murphy’s crew of homeless friends, most of whom are individually featured, and with the appropriately named Mama Bear, a maternal figure and thrift-shop owner who literally puts the clothes on Murphy’s back. Regular visits to Betty at the vet’s office are the heart of the story, so Murphy’s incentive remains noble. The book may not appeal to all readers, as sex and violence are graphically depicted, though never insensitively.
An unshakable noir with a protagonist learning along the way, but beyond the more overt genre traits is a rewarding story of a man’s unconditional love for his faithful companion.