A cocaine drop gone wrong sets the stage for a Pacific Northwest confrontation and chase that takes a while to ratchet up to maximum tension. Urban Waite’s debut novel, The Terror Of Living, chronicles the desperate scramblings of the dregs of the drug trade through one pursued but determined lower-level operative.
An ex-con nicknamed “the kid” kicks the story into motion with his first assignment out of Washington state prison, riding up into the mountains to help pick up a bale of drugs arriving by helicopter. On intercept: Deputy Bobby Drake, a cop whose ex-sheriff father is doing time for participating in a similar ring, such that Bobby’s eagerness to tangle with local drug rings is consistently at odds with popular recognition of his name. “The kid” swiftly winds up in a holding cell, but his partner, Phil Hunt, agrees to perform an errand for the cartel to preserve his boss’ relationship with the lines of supply—without knowing the boss has sold him out to be executed after the pick-up. Phil eludes his pursuers, who in turn stay just out of reach of Bobby and the DEA agent who accompanies him in the search for the drugs and the perpetrators.
In spite of Phil’s drug-trafficking history, sympathies lie with him: The Terror Of Living takes frequent pauses to examine the course of his life during his flight from both the law and Grady, the cartel’s hit man with a penchant for chefs’ knives. Apart from the snow and evergreens, this is No Country For Old Men territory, down to the self-practiced emergency medical aid. But Grady is no Anton Chigurh, and Phil’s soul-searching finds a sad but compelling rhythm: Together with his wife Nora, he had carved out a living raising and boarding horses on the expectation that his side business would never be uncovered.
Waite turns the heat up predictably but satisfyingly on his characters, tossing the drugs around enough to remind readers of the stakes, but emphasizing how little moving the product means in the ensuing scuffle. Bouncing off an unlikely coincidence, Bobby’s tracing of the type of drug ring his father successfully built brings him in contact with his greatest fears, but ultimately, the pursuit is his own. The Terror Of Living describes how the misery heaps onto the players fighting over a sharply decreasing share of profit, without dehumanizing their thoughts in order to favor those who are chasing them.