In the words of Kate Daniels, too much woo-woo hand-waving, not enough fights.
Okay, maybe that was me.
Still, too much vague spirit-walking, which might have improved if Murphy took a page from Phillip K. Dick and dropped some acid while writing it.
But I’m jumping ahead. The basic premise begins with Joanne waking up in bed with The Ideal Guy (supportive, easy-going, polite, funny, able to cook delicious food for multiple people with no notice and an empty fridge, makes no demands on her except a second date). She vaguely remembers being extremely jealous of a gorgeous new woman hanging on Morrison’s every word at a company picnic, and trying to drink her fellow mechanics under the table. Thankfully, she and Ideal Guy didn’t actually get intimate, as Joanne recalls in one of those moments I would only confess to a Very Best Girl Friend and pretty much never my 75-year-old guy pal. In a frantic effort to distract the reader from the Very Obvious, Joanne’s pulled away from her dealing with I.G. to deal with the unusual coma of good friend and department detective Billy Holliday. Off to the hospital!
Oops! She embarrasses herself by getting all up in the face of a doctor in Billy’s room, defending the woo-woo ability that she won’t even admit to. After a spirit walk, she decides to work on her car, falls asleep and has a dream/memory about being childhood. I.G. wakes her up when he arrives for her date, only to discover she’s covered in grease. Luckily, her fencing teacher shows up to do a miraculous Transform Plain Girl into Hot Chick scene (cue Sandra Dee solo and every 80s movie ever) and they all go dancing (Clearly, it is very pressing to solve the disaster of the absentee police force).
It was a small but side encounter with Holliday’s precocious kids that really annoyed me. After working to establish trust with Uptight Doctor, she offers to babysit Holliday’s kids. Oops! After a quick heart-to-heart with one of them, she bails to go work, and calls on taxi-driver buddy Gary to pinch sit. What a terrible example of lack of ethics. And sloppy plotting to boot–I’m not sure it was necessary. It is bad enough Joanne has trouble taking responsibility for her spiritual development. You mean to tell me that as a police officer, she thinks first accepting responsibility for someone’s children, then passing them off to her good friend is acceptable in any sense of the word? It was a small plot point but huge turn-off for me in terms of likeable (and consistent) character.
(If you can’t tell, i’ve been listening to Jenny Lawson‘s memoir Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir which is filled with asides of asides, and the style has rather rubbed off on me).
Resuming. After abandoning the kids, she heads in to work and is ambushed by a reporter investigating the sudden absence of a quarter of the department. Not that that distracts Officer
Thor Edward from admiring her during a quick stop at the station. (A development I viewed with a sinking spirit, as multiple love interests is one of my hallmarks of bad chick-lit. In case you’re curious, one of the other defining characteristics is the need to describe outfits. Repeatedly.) Spirit walking ensues. One can only hope even personal growth. At least, I am.
I just cannot find redemption in the narrative style, essentially a jumbled mess of back-story (and I’m not just referring to the first few chapters), an altered time-line, multiple episodes of spirit walking and police work in modern Seattle. Murphy can’t quite manage it. The narrative jumps into the spirit world were a few short sentences away from completely wasted text (if you don’t believe me, check some of the ambivalent reviews where some people admitted skipping it entirely); they felt lacking in character development and mystery. It’s rather sad–I wanted to like it. As a big fan of gardens, animal totems and vivid imagery, spirit walking with Coyote should be right up my ally. Alas.
The plotting is equally unfocused–Murphy can’t decide if she is focusing on Joanne’s spiritual development, saving the world or getting Joanne together with her twu luv (of the three or four choices presented for our scrutiny) and as such, tends to write a story unfulfilling for everyone.
I found the voice also inconsistent and a struggle. Joanne suffers from a tendency towards UF snark in real-life situations, particularly in the beginning. Must authors use first-person narration inconsistently? Hung-over heroines who can’t even open their eyes and who genuinely appear to wake up thinking they are being beaten/killed are capable of thinking mocking or lustful thoughts? The snark disappears when she’s in spirit land, which is disconcerting. Is that her style for dealing with challenge? Or not?
Overall, quite honestly, I find Coyote Dreams to be the worst of both worlds, the male protagonist UF-detective (MUF) and the female protagonist paranormal romance (FUF) (attributed to Carly, in her insightful analysis of Sookie #1 ). What makes it mildly redeeming is having a half-Native character with shaman skills, a type of magic system that is not overly prevalent in U.F. So I’ll give the next book a try, based on the shaman focus (however vaguely done), the narrative hinting that Joann’s finally developed self-acceptance, and Sharon’s report that the series improves.