Take a deep breath before you get into this one. This is a debut novel that defies its label of ‘debut’. Had the author not written anything before? Really? The Terror of Living is so very impressive, with the author just under 30 years of age at the time of publication. What makes this novel fabulous is both the writing and storytelling. Waite’s story is tense, adrenaline-paced, illuminative, compact, precise, detailed but contained. Not one word is scattered with abandon or indulged.
Set on the borders of Washington and Canada, Hunt, an ex-convict, is not completely rehabilitated; he keeps a ranch with his wife but supplements their income performing the odd drug smuggling operation. When Hunt is drawn in to a bigger deal that goes wrong, deputy sheriff Drake is on hand to track him like a dog. Unfortunately, so do those with a vested financial interest in the drugs who despatch a hired killer after Hunt to recover their property. Where Hunt finds himself cornered, his desperate actions are all about survival and his hope to disappear.
At its core, The Terror of Living is about maturity, human relationships and the stretching of what binds people together, with no one without a family to consider. It is also a reminder that life is never simple and that face value is often a mirage. When it comes to the drugs trade, Waite is not afraid to lead us to confront the impact on victims through characters that are neither completely good nor completely bad. Wrapping up such enlightening observations in a compelling thriller is one hell of an achievement.
If you don’t see this novel on award longlists, shortlists or as a winner, I suspect the reason will be that it is considered too close to one of the sources of its inspiration: Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. In books two and three – and I feel certain there will be many more – we will need to be more sure of the author’s voice. But with The Terror of Living we have an outstanding debut, taking the dirty and the gritty side of life, and delivering the story in a sublime and – dare I say it? – urbane way.
Don’t miss this one and keep the author’s name in your little black book, for you are likely to want to be the first to read more.