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Coyote Songs - Book Review

Coyote Songs - Gabino Iglesias (2018)

Published by Broken River Books, this was a novel I acquired at the end of 2020 and one which pushed itself to the top of my to-be-read pile by means of the author's engaging online presence.

Coyote Songs follows six narratives: Pedrito, a boy in search of vengeance for his father’s death; The Mother, who fears the child inside her womb; Jaime, a former convict who returns home to his mother and her abusive partner; Alma, a performance artist seeking to make a lasting statement against cultural suppression; The Coyote, a people smuggler guided by the Virgin Mary in a quest to protect children as they cross the US/Mexico border; and La Bruja, a spirit tied to the earthly realm by loss and a thirst for revenge. This mosaic crime/horror novel is a gritty tale of injustice, retribution and faith.

From the first chapter, Iglesias sets out his stall that this is no fairy tale, delivering a sucker punch to the reader as a clear warning that things are about to get uncomfortable. The prose throughout is pacey and engaging as the author glides through each narrative, coiling at the right moments to keep you on edge before lunging unexpectantly, fangs exposed and with enough venom to stop your heart.

The complexity and depth of the characters blurs the reader’s sympathies in true noir crime fashion. Iglesias crafts a cast that is neither angelic nor evil; flawed, virtuous and broken people who weave paths through a rich story interspersed with folklore, ancient deities, ghosts and the failings of humanity. Coyote Songs exists in an area that is neither black or white, but infinite shades of grey. The beings that haunt this tale are both human and supernatural and the writer makes it difficult at times to discern which is which.

At times, the writing is delivered with blunt force. Where necessary, Iglesias is lyrical in his prose, but for the most part he allows the story to flow with candid urgency.

“He also knew that in a group of four, at least one had probably suffered at the hands of some demon in human form. Facts are harder to swallow than rocks, but just as solid. Standing there, looking at those scared kids, he thought about kids, he thought about taking a ride in La Bestia and collecting testicles in the name of decency, but he knew he didn’t have the time. Plus, decency didn’t put money in anyone’s pockets, and castrating rapists doesn’t help get children across the border.”

With six narratives running parallel to each other, I felt one or two of the characters - Jaime in particular - has less of a chance to flesh out their story. This was my initial reaction when reading, but in retrospect could have in fact been indicative of the social reality behind the tale. The want for more owes a lot to Iglesias’ gripping storytelling.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this book is that it is written in English with passages of Spanish throughout. Iglesias could have no doubt written Coyote Songs entirely in English, and possibly reached a wider audience by doing so, but rather than water down the story, has opted for authenticity. Iglesias tells an unflinching tale of Latin American diaspora and does so with integrity. The use of Spanish is not a novelty tool of the author – it is a necessity of a well-written, biting tale that could be told no other way.

Iglesias does what any good writer should do; he challenges the reader. He pulls you from your comfort zone and shows you a glimpse of a world only observed at the peripheries of your vision, forcing you to look headlong into his creation.

Coyote Songs is colourful, beautifully intricate and at times, brutal. A gutsy horror noir that will appeal to fans of crime and horror alike.

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, editor, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, Texas. Purchase Coyote songs here

Reviewed by Jimmy Nicol for Hellhound

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