Recently I’ve been doing some light reading and have devoured some old and new mysteries and thrillers.
In addition to reading classics like Graham Greene’s “The Third Man” and Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep,” I have recently finished a gripping new novel that transcends its genre and still manages to be a page-turner.
The book is “Coyote Fork” by James Wilson. This is a story with a mystery at its center that shows characters struggling against very contemporary antagonists, such as surveillance capitalism and politically based bullying and shaming that drives people to suicide.
The protagonist is Robert Lovelace, a British journalist and travel writer whose publication was bought up by the third-richest man in the world, the young social media mogul Evan Bone. His colleague and former college girlfriend Anne Grainger lost her job after writing a denunciation of the sale; she is later hounded to suicide.
Robert is in California, covering a new program, TOLSTOY, that predicts a person’s thoughts based on their online history. He has a vision of Anne just at the time of her death, which leads him to follow a lead that she had given him in her last, previously unread email.
All of this turns out to be a quite satisfying mystery thriller. What makes it unique is its connection to our current world. Robert decides that the key to the mystery has to do with the former girlfriend of Evan Bone. He seeks out one of her old friends, a college professor who is being investigated for having told a student that her ideas were dumb. The student claimed the professor called her dumb, and the “woke” and “progressive” elements called for her firing.
Lovelace seeks her out, but the only one to give him information on how to locate her turns out to be an alt-right student. This gets Robert immediately branded a racist because he talked to the guy.
Robert befriends the professor, and they take elaborate means to avoid surveillance, to little avail. The cyber-bullies follow them around the country, despite the couple’s use of disposable cellphones and cash to make purchases.
It turns out that Evan Bone had been born in a hippie commune called Coyote Fork in California, and there was a conflict between the now-defunct commune and Native Americans living nearby. As the story develops, it looks that Bone, a near-autistic genius, might have been involved in a murder.
The book hits some philosophical notes lightly, then moves on. The techno-utopians like Bone who want to download consciousness into machines and go to Mars are compared to the Gnostics, a second-and-third century philosophy that claimed the world was created evil, that we were trapped in our bodies, and that esoteric knowledge could bring the soul out of this world into a gnosis, or knowledge, of reality.
I was motivated to order a book on Gnosticism — the connection between ancient heresy and transhumanism is one that I have made myself and will someday be the basis for somebody’s great scholarly book.
The novel twists and turns the way a good mystery thriller should. As you get toward the end, you wonder how the author can resolve it. The climax is surprising, and the protagonist retreats to safety before finally beginning to write the story down.
I’ve been accused of favoring “chewy” academic nonfiction, but I have to say there comes a time when the intellectual equivalent of caramel popcorn is exactly what I need.
“Coyote Fork” a delightful light read with depth beneath the plot.