The Last Coyote, Michael Connelly

St. Martin’s, 1995, 408 pages, C$7.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-312-95845-5

The third volume in my continuing “Michael Connelly Reading Project” (One book per month until I’ve caught up!) is one of the keystones of the Harry Bosch series: a deep and complex investigation that reaches in Los Angeles’ history to illuminate Bosch himself.

Having read The Concrete Blonde a few years ago, it took me a few pages to get back up to speed with Bosch’s tumultuous life, and there’s a lot to learn. His girlfriend’s gone, his earthquake-damaged house has been condemned, he’s been taken off the force and forced to undergo psychological evaluation: you can imagine how well he’s taking that. Driven to drink and despair, Bosch anchors himself to an unsolved case: the murder of his own mother, thirty years earlier. Against everyone’s advice, he starts digging in the case once again, pulling at threads that many people would rather leave undisturbed.

The first chunk of The Last Coyote isn’t particularly pleasant. Bosch has never been a particularly cheery character, but even this particular situation seems like the bottom of the barrel. Loveless, homeless, jobless: It’s no wonder if his investigation into his mother’s death quickly becomes an obsession. For a while, it seems like a wholly historical exercise: digging into LAPD archives, interviewing people who may or may not remember anything about the event, chasing down the investigating officers and so on. But there’s something unusual about the case: as he learns more about it, Bosch becomes convinced that the true events have been covered up. And those who have ordered the cover up are still around…

If the beginning of the novel can be exasperating and depressing, The Last Coyote quickly claws its way back on top of the Bosch sequence as it becomes more and more directly concerned with the detective’s life. This novel becomes the most personal of Bosch’s adventures as he learns the truth about his mother and the people she used to be with.

It’s also Bosch most difficult investigation in that he has to bluff with way through it without the benefit of a badge. He risks a trip to Florida. He acts as if he’s still in the force. He uses someone else’s credentials. He knows that if someone peeks too closely into what he’s doing, he may be fired from the force —permanently. And that’s without considering that the people who ordered the cover-up may still be around, in positions of power.

Soon, the novel lets the historical background fade in order to let the events play out in contemporary L.A. Harry’s action have consequences: a recurring character is killed because of the trail Harry leaves behind him. Soon, it’s Harry himself who’s stuck in a desperate situation. Internal Affairs investigations are just the least of it.

Through it all, Connelly’s top-notch prose does wonders at pulling readers in for “just one more chapter”. Once past the ho-hum opening, the novel just keeps getting better and faster. The focus also shifts from Bosch’s mother to Bosch himself, earning the novel not only a good place in the Bosch series, but also a dramatic resonance that bring to mind other classic L.A. noir novels. The Last Coyote grows in the telling, building upon the image implicit in the title to deliver a novel that, ironically enough, works better because it’s part of a series and not despite of it. Bosch’s unresolved issues with his mother’s murder have been hanging around since the beginning of the series, and the repercussions of the case are likely to be felt in subsequent volumes.

As I’m finding out with this “Michael Connelly Reading Project”, it’s going to be hard finding a Connelly novel that is less than mesmerizing. The Last Coyote brings all sorts of threads together and even acts as a fair conclusion to Bosch’s early novels. Next up isn’t The Poet or Trunk Music (since I read those years ago), but Angels Flight. We’ll see if the streak continues.

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