South Florida has been irresistible for crime writers, among them Carl Hiaasen, Edna Buchanan and Harry Crews. Now John Dufresne, most famously the author of the novel Louisiana Power and Light, has joined that list with his first mystery novel.
No Regrets, Coyote is Dufresne's eighth novel, and it begins with the killing of an entire family in the fictional South Florida town of Eden. When the police get to the scene of the crime, they find a typed note, which they insist is a suicide letter.
But an amateur detective named Wiley "Coyote" Melville, a local therapist with an eye for detail, doesn't buy it. He thinks the murderer is out there, and along with his sidekick, Bay Lettique, Coyote sets out on a gripping and off-kilter mission to solver the murder. Dufresne speaks with NPR's Jacki Lyden about his book and its characters.
On his main character, Wiley "Coyote" Melville
"He's a therapist by trade, and he's called in occasionally because he has what a psychologist calls 'robust mirror neurons.' He's able to look at people and look at their furniture and look at the way they behave themselves and sort of determine ... where it is they're going and what people's motivations are. ...
"[At the same time], he's carrying on with his business. It's like, we all have our lives — whatever trouble's going on in our life, we still have to live it. He has to go to work every day and he has these clients that have various degrees of difficulty that he's trying to work with, and he's also got some problems in his own family."
On Coyote's sidekick, Bay Lettique
"Bay is a professional poker player who used to run an illegal poker game and would call Wiley in to see if anyone was cheating, he could notice who it was. ... And it was usually cops, and they'd have to pay off the police benevolent association so nobody got in trouble.
"And Bay was also like his real estate attorney at one time and all that, and so now they're best buddies. And Wiley worries about Bay and the fact that he can't keep himself away from the poker table, but Bay is successful at it and makes his living that way."
On writing his first murder mystery
"I had been writing these, what I like to think of as literary fiction, for want of a better word, and I got an opportunity — a couple opportunities actually — to write mystery stories with a collection called Miami Noir and then another called Boston Noir.
"I've always written about mysteries, but the mystery is generally about like, who are we? Who are these other people? And why are we doing what we do? And this time the mystery is about not a venial sin, in that sense, but a mortal sin. There's crime and ... a crime has to be solved, but I got to page 250 in the manuscript and I didn't know whodunit."
JACKI LYDEN, HOST:
It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.
South Florida has been irresistible for crime writers - Carl Hiaasen, Edna Buchanan, Harry Crews are just a few who come to mind. But novelist John Dufresne hadn't really tried his hand at the noire genre before. Now, he brings all his gifts for humor and pathos to Eden, Florida, the imaginary setting for the family slaughter that begins Dufresne's new novel, "No Regrets, Coyote."
It's a gripping read and off-kilter. He hails from Massachusetts, originally, but Florida has gotten under his skin since a long time back. John Dufresne joins me from member station WLRN in Miami. Welcome.
JOHN DUFRESNE: Thank you, Jacki. Great to be here.
LYDEN: It's difficult to call a murder mystery fun, but "No Regrets, Coyote" is a fun murder mystery. And yet, it starts with this really brutal, bloody crime. The entire Halliday family is killed in their home in South Florida, and an unlikely character is called in to help solve the crime. He's our protagonist, our hero. His name's Wiley Melville - nice writer's detective-type name - and goes by Coyote. Tell us more about him. He's not actually a detective.
DUFRESNE: No, he's not. He's a therapist by trade, and he's called in occasionally because he has what a psychologist calls robust mirror neurons. He's able to sort of look at people and look at their furniture and look at the way they behave themselves. And so to determine, sass out what it is going and what people's motivations are.
LYDEN: One of the great fun things in this that's sort of a send-up of the whole genre is that he often has to break off from solving the crime to, you know, basically give someone a therapy session because he's so caring.
DUFRESNE: Yeah, he - he's got - he's carrying on with his business. It's like, this is - we all have our own lives that whatever trouble is going on in our life, we still have to live it. He has to go to work every day, and he has, you know, some - these clients that have various degrees of, you know, difficulty that he's trying to work with. And he's also got some problems in his own family with his father is suffering from dementia. And he has to take care of his father, and his sister's kind of a hysteric.
And he's got all - he's trying to juggle all these things together at the same time while also losing his girlfriend and maybe finding another one. In all of this, life goes on for him.
LYDEN: So the Halliday family, sadly, is no more - mom, pop and three kids - and the cops insist that it's murder-suicide. But Wiley, he just isn't so sure. Something doesn't seem right. This suicide note's pretty badly typed - and that's interesting, it's typed - it's found next to the father. Maybe you would give us a bit of that, please.
DUFRESNE: Yeah, OK. So he's given the suicide note that the police have found. He's handed it, too, and it reads like this: To whom it may concern. To start off about this tragic story, my name is Chafin Halliday, my wife Krysia, my boys Brantley, 9, Briely, 8, and my daughter and my precious angel, Brianna, 4. People have put obstacles in my way and know who they are. I'm not insane. But this is no way to live like this. I have let my loved ones down. I have failed at fathership. I had to die. I deserved it. But to love them like I do and to live without them is too hard to bear, which is why we are dead and why we are together on the other side. I could not leave my babies with strangers. Yours truly, Chafin R. Halliday.
LYDEN: Right away, Wylie suspects that there's just something off about all of this. So Coyote's going to set off on this mission to find out what actually happened to this family. He's got a sidekick - and all the detectives need one. This is a poker player and magician type called Bay Lettique. Tell us about Bay.
DUFRESNE: Well, Bay is a professional poker player who used to run an illegal poker game and would call Wylie in to see if anyone was cheating. He could notice who it was, and it usually was and it was usually cops. And they'd have to pay off the police benevolent association so no one would get in trouble. And Bay was also like his real estate attorney at one time and all that, and so now they are best buddies. And Wylie worries about Bay, in fact, that he can't keep himself away from the poker table. But Bay is successful at it and makes his living that way.
LYDEN: Why don't you read to us about Bay Lettique?
DUFRESNE: OK. My friend Bay Lettique, a slight of hand man, does close-up magic. You can shuffle a deck of playing cards, spread them face down on the table and he'll pick them up in order - Ace to King - by suit or by rank, your choice. He once asked me to think of a card - not to mention it, just to picture it. And he not only identified the card, he did it by asking me to open my wallet and pull out the $5 bill that had the rank and suit of the card written on Lincoln's shirt collard in red ink: Nine of diamonds.
He can make a parakeet fly from his iPhone to your iPhone and from your iPhone to his shoulder. I've seen him slice a banana in half with a card he threw from 10 feet away - at least I think I saw it. Bay says close-up works this way: I tell you I'm going to lie to you, and then I lie to you and you believe it because you want to believe.
LYDEN: I just love that.
DUFRESNE: Oh, thank you.
LYDEN: It just sends a chill up my spine. So, John Dufresne, this is your first crime novel, I believe. How did this come to be? You were part of a short story collection solicited from Florida writers?
DUFRESNE: Right. What happened was, you know, I had been writing these - what I like to think of a - sort of literary fiction, for want of a better word. And I got an opportunity, a couple of opportunities actually, to write mystery stories with a collection called Miami Noir and then another one called Boston Noir.
I've always written about mysteries, but the mystery is generally about, like, who are we, who are these other people and what do - why are we doing what we do. And this time, the mystery is - about not a venial sin, in that sense, but a mortal sin, that there's some - there's crime and something has to be - a crime has to be solved. I got to page 250 in the manuscript, and I didn't know who'd done it.
LYDEN: Doesn't somebody in here tell Wylie - I think he's board - about to board a plane somewhere - you know, the thing about Florida, it's not God's country.
DUFRESNE: I think so. Yes, I think that's right. It's a state trooper who pulls him over. And he says: Yeah, I've been to Florida. And, yeah, I didn't like it too much. He said: Well, no, it's not God's country down there.
LYDEN: You know, I think you've given us someone here - you don't really want to say goodbye to the Coyote. I mean, he's a great character. Will we see him again?
DUFRESNE: Yes, we will. I'm working on him now. And he's actually in Nevada right now. And the manuscript that I was working on this morning, I've got him in - he's waking up in a motel in Valmy, Nevada.
So the trouble's going to be in the desert. And I think we may end up coming back to Florida. But he and Bay are out in - they begin in Las Vegas where Bay, of course, is at the poker table. And that's why they went.
LYDEN: Well, John, it has been a great pleasure talking to you. John Dufresne's new murder mystery is called "No Regrets, Coyote." It is great. Thank you so much.
DUFRESNE: Thank you, Jacki. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.