After a drug drop goes awry, ex-cons, drug lords, a psychopath and law officers play seek and maim in the Pacific Northwest in this debut thriller.
Phil Hunt, an ex-con struggling to run a horse farm with his wife, and another ex-con, a 22-year-old portentously identified only as “the Kid,” are out to pick up two packages filled with 200 kilos of cocaine in a deep forest in Washington state (rendered in sensory prose that recalls Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River”). Deputy Bobby Drake nabs the Kid, but Hunt gets away. The Kid goes to jail, where someone who wants to keep him quiet about the drugs has him brutally murdered in the first of several explicitly rendered, harrowing scenes of violence. Hunt now realizes he’s in trouble with the law and with the drug dealers who sent him to retrieve the cocaine. He hopes to appease the latter by carrying out one more assignment for them, this one involving a young Vietnamese woman carrying tubes of coke in her stomach. The dealers, hovering about in their car, engage a man named Grady, who has great skill vivisecting humans with razor-sharp knives. The pursuits that follow are complicated and play out in sharply written, swiftly paced scenes. But as the book’s prose, its overwrought title and its violence—in a stark Cormac McCarthy landscape—suggest, Waite aims for more than a straightforward thriller. Haunted by the desertion of his father, now in prison, Drake longs for some sort of healing. Hunt, likewise, wants to know that his life, work and marriage after prison have brought him redemption. Saving Hunt, Drake feels as he circles the ex-con, may free them both.
Parts of the book are somewhat obvious. But the meticulously calibrated prose, rushing narrative and sympathetic protagonists mark Waite as a rewarding, promising writer.