Urban Waite's 'The Terror of Living': an ex-con in trouble, a lawman on his trail and a sadistic killer
Seattle author Urban Waite's thriller "The Terror of Living" moves from an Auburn horse ranch to the North Cascades and points in between, as an ex-con trying to go straight and a lawman on his trail cross paths with a sadistic killer. Waite will appear at noon Saturday at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Feb. 22 at Village Books in Bellingham and Feb. 23 at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co.
Special to The Seattle Times
Urban WaiteThe author of "The Terror of Living" will appear at these area locations:
• He will sign his book at noon Saturday at Seattle Mystery Bookshop, 117 Cherry St., Seattle; free (206-587-5737 or www.seattlemystery.com).
• He will read at 7 p.m. Feb. 22 at Village Books in Bellingham, free (360-671-2626 or www.villagebooks.com); and at 7 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave., Seattle, free (206-624-6600 or www.elliottbaybook.com).
Urban Waite nearly became, as his author bio puts it, "the next big Mexican-Italian-Welsh engineer." Waite, a Seattle native, spent several years on the East Coast, where he attended college and planned that stellar engineering career before returning to Seattle.
Fortunately for fans of crime fiction, Waite instead turned to writing, publishing a number of stories in literary magazines before returning to the Northwest. Waite's home state then became the setting for "The Terror of Living" (Little, Brown, 320 pp., $24.99).
From a horse ranch in Auburn to the remote North Cascades and points in between, the book moves at top speed. There's not much fat to be trimmed from this plot — thanks, perhaps, to the presence of a creepy bad guy who has a day job as a butcher but moonlights as a killer and sadistic torturer.
But the killer is not the book's main focus. "The Terror of Living" is instead the story of two essentially good men who find themselves on opposite sides of the law — but who have more than they might wish in common.
Phil Hunt lives on the Auburn ranch. He's an ex-con who served time for killing a man during a robbery. Hunt is basically a good guy who once made a bad mistake. He paid for it, but the guilt and remorse have never gone away.
Now he's raising horses, trying to make ends meet and to keep things good with his loyal wife. But making ends meet is easier said than done, so Hunt has a second job. Periodically, he trailers horses up I-5 and packs them into the North Cascades for a little cross-border drug smuggling.
The second figure at the heart of "The Terror of Living" is Bobby Drake, a lawman (from an unidentified jurisdiction) with a tarnished family history. Drake's father combined characteristics of both his son and Phil Hunt — he was a law enforcement officer who also had a nice sideline in smuggling drugs.
Hunt and Drake encounter each other when the deputy tracks and then tries to stop a drug swap high in the Cascades. Hunt gets away, with Drake implacably following.
The subsequent chase is significantly complicated by the appearance of that butcher-killer (who is also, as it turns out, more than willing to be a kidnapper when it becomes necessary). He's been hired by the higher-ups in the drug-smuggling chain to retrieve their goods, so he is by no means a friend to either the lawman or the horseman.
The violence in "The Terror of Living" is graphic and, some might feel, at times gratuitous. But the book's strong points outweigh any faults. Waite writes convincingly about the joys of the wilderness, and he wisely keeps his focus on the interplay between the two main characters in this sure-footed debut.
Adam Woog's column on crime and mystery fiction appears on the second Sunday of the month in the Times.