Title: The Terror of Living
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Trade Paperback: 304 pages
Publication Date: 03/02/2011
Damn you Urban Waite!
Sorry, that was just my jealousy speaking! Because The Terror of Living is not only Waite’s debut novel, but was also written two years ago when he was just twenty eight [which makes me even more green with envy!]. It’s an incredibly impressive and readable thriller and I have to say that I’m in no way surprised that The Bookseller recently featured the novel on its cover.
When ex-con and occasional drug-smuggler Phil Hunt lets a big shipment fall into the hands of the authorities he knows that he’s in trouble – a fact that’s made crystal clear when Hunt’s young accomplice from the failed drug run is brutally murdered in prison. And on his tail is Deputy Sheriff Drake, a man with a chequered past and something to prove. But Drake is the least of Hunt’s problems. Because the traffickers are also looking for him, and have hired a vicious and remorseless hitman called Grady [which may not sound like the name of a violent assassin, but trust me, he’s most definitely a psychopath] to track Hunt down and reclaim their drugs.
When I started reading this novel, the first things that it reminded me of – and which I’m certain were big influences on Waite – were the Coen brothers’ 1996 film, Fargo, and Cormac McCarthy’s novel, No Country For Old Men [which was turned into an Academy Award-winning 2007 film by … the Coen brothers!]. Indeed, the plot of McCarthy’s novel is incredibly similar to that of The Terror of Living – there is an illicit drug deal gone wrong and an almost unstoppable and ferociously violent assassin, Anton Chigurh.
However, Waite’s novel is no mindless copy of McCarthy’s book. Yes, the similarities are striking, but The Terror of Living is made its own book by Waite’s incredibly assured prose, authorial ability and strikingly memorable and well-rounded characters. Especially impressive was the manner in which the prose manages to be deceptively pacy. It’s all beautifully written, and more than once I found myself drawn in by the language and descriptions to the extent that when I resurfaced I was completely taken-aback by quite how much I had read without really realising it.
Tight and taut [it is a little over three hundred pages long], The Terror of Living is a fascinating study of morality and the nature of good and evil. Urban Waite is going to have to go some distance to better this debut.