Saturday, May 4, 2013

Book Review: "The Carrion Birds" by Urban Waite

There are thrillers where you haven't a clue what is going to happen, ones that keep you guessing until far into the story, if not until the end. And then there are those in which you can pretty much figure out most of what will happen, sometimes early on into the book. While the latter type of book might not seem too exciting to read, in the hands of a talented author, it can be just as compelling (if not more so) than the former. Urban Waite's The Carrion Birds definitely follows that example, but his storytelling ability and the richness of his characters keep you flipping the pages (literally or metaphorically) so you can see how the story will resolve itself.

Ray Lamar used to be an oilman in the small New Mexico town of Coronado, until his father's wells ran dry. With no real prospect of income, and a wife and young son, he turned to a less savory way of life as a hired gun for a local crime lord, which brought him into the sights of a dangerous Mexican drug cartel and visited unspeakable tragedy upon his family, also causing his cousin Tom to lose his job as the town's sheriff.

After 10 years of hiding out, Ray is ready to move on with his life and finally see his now 12-year-old son again. He agrees to take one more job, because it will bring him back to Coronado, a town now in severe economic decline. But from the very beginning, nothing about this job goes the way it is supposed to, and Ray finds himself being sucked further and further into a maelstrom that he desperately wants to escape. His return to Coronado opens up a number of old wounds, and brings his cousin face-to-face with those who took his job away 10 years before, and those who resolutely tried to defend him.

As you might guess from the title alone, The Carrion Birds is a bleak book, but it is never morose or heavy-handed. In less than 300 pages, Urban Waite does a terrific job drawing his characters and providing their back stories, as well as pulling you along on the trajectories they might follow. While you may know how the whole story will resolve itself, it is a testament to Waite's talent as a writer that you don't care if there are few surprises, because the narrative is well-written, the drama is palpable, and the action flows tremendously well. I've seen some reviews of the book which liken it to No Country for Old Men, and while it does share that book's bleak tone, this is a book with a style all its own, although Waite's ability to evoke the settings of his novel reminded me a little of the excellent James Lee Burke.

This is a thriller which might not shock or dazzle you, but it certainly will thrill you, as much for the way it is written as for its plot. And definitely check out Waite's first novel, the equally bleak The Terror of Living, as well.

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