The Terror of Living by Urban Waite
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
”Do you ever just think of just doing a criminal thing sometime? Just doing something terrible. Change everything.
Richard Ford, Rock Springs, from the story “Winterkill”
Deputy Bobby Drake was up in the mountains of Washington State for purposes of relaxation, at least that is what he told everyone. When millions of dollars of cocaine start floating down out of the sky. The relaxation becomes one cop against desperate men who never want to see the inside of Monroe prison again.
Hunt is one of those men. He’s been inside. He’s done his stupid thing and paid the price in time. ”Hunt had grown up over the years, but the idea of being a continuous failure had stuck with him. He was sure of himself in all the wrong situations. A good man, made up of all the bad things in the world.” He has a beautiful wife and a small business boarding horses, but he can’t make enough money to meet his mortgage needs. He has to mule drugs out of the hills for his friend Eddie. Pretty safe occupation most of the time except when you run into a Deputy Sheriff doing some camping in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Hunt could become a wage slave, but he just can’t do it. He’s given up enough time in a cage and can’t stand the thought of doing mindless work for just enough money to keep scraping by. He needs the big score, something that will cushion him from poverty and allow him the freedom to exist the way he wants to exist.
He just got unlucky.
Drake, has his own baggage to haul. His father was the sheriff and is currently serving time for doing something similar to what Hunt was trying to do. The Sheriff was tired of being broke. When Drake calls in the results of this unexpected drug bust, because of his father’s record, he is a suspect before he is a hero.
Meanwhile powerful, impatient people are very unhappy.
The same group are using Vietnamese women to smuggle heroin into the country. Their intestines are full of thousands of dollars of pellets. Two women worth no more than a plugged nickel to these people are suddenly worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $200,000. It is Grady’s job to collect them and extract the heroin.
Grady has a penchant for knives. He calls himself a chef, but he is really a butcher.
”In one motion, Grady pushed the blade up into the skin beneath the chin, up through the soft palate, and into the brain. There was a slight tremor on the attendant’s face as Grady twisted the handle of the knife and scrambled the man’s brains. The attendant’s warm blood came dripping down off the knife into Grady’s gloved hand and the sleeve of his sweatshirt.”
Grady is one of those people with scrambled circuitry in his brain, or maybe he actually has streamlined circuits that allow him to embrace impulse and not have a flicker of remorse for any of the results. Whenever he entered a chapter every sense of self-preservation I have was instantly activated. I felt uneasiness for even the most casual interactions that he had with people. He is sent after Hunt, but when Hunt proves elusive he decides that Hunt’s wife Nora will bring Hunt to him.
”He hoped Hunt loved his wife. He was counting on it, and he knew people did stupid things for love. They did stupid things all too often. And he thought this was probably how they had all come into this mess. How it had all begun for them. Stupid.”
Everyone is looking for Hunt and everyone is looking for Grady. Hunt and Grady are looking for each other. Drake finds himself in the middle trying to save Hunt as best he can and at the same time redeem himself for the sins of his father.
Urban Waite has written a literary level mystery that hopefully has crossed over between genres. Mystery readers should definitely read this neo-noir novel if they are fans of hardboiled Chandleresque novels, but there are also elements of Jim Thompson lurking in the prose to add some Pulp Fiction spice. Waite fills a niche recently vacated by the great Elmore Leonard. He was a writer deemed worthwhile to read for those looking for an entertainment between heavier texts of established classics or history.
The book is plot driven, but there are certainly a plethora of reflective moments when the characters are wrestling with issues of past mistakes and trying to ponder their way into a better future that gives the book substance beyond just a snappy plot.
In the acknowledgements Urban Waite listed the books and writers that influenced his need to be a writer. Poachers by Tom Franklin, Spartina by John Casey, Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone, No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy, and The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. I really appreciate it when writers do this, especially when they list more than just the authors, but the actually titles of the books as well. The result, I went to my library and pulled a copy of Dog Soldiers off my shelf to read next. A book that has been there for decades.
4.25 out of 5 Stars
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