Like the brutal yet solid storytelling of Jim Thompson’s The Getaway, Urban Waite’s new book is true western noir that examines destructive moral dilemmas.
A criminal who vows to go straight after that one last job is a tried and true idea, but Waite makes the idea fresh by adding the disintegration of a family to his plot. More than 12 years ago, Ray Lamar left his home in New Mexico after his wife was killed by members of a drug cartel and his toddler son left brain-damaged in a car crash.
All these years, Ray hasn’t seen his son, whom he left in the care of his aged father, nor his cousin, Tom, with whom he was raised. In a misguided attempt to help Ray, Tom went after a suspected drug dealer; an incident that eventually cost Tom his job as the local sheriff and has “forever defined his life.”
Ray plans to do one last job for a crime boss so he can return home. But naturally, everything goes horribly wrong.
Set in a dying town where dried-up oil wells and abandoned housing developments dot the landscape, The Carrion Birds succinctly uses the barren area as a metaphor for the characters’ lives. Waite makes the reader feel the arid desert while also making an unlikable character such as Ray sympathetic. The Carrion Birds moves at a brisk pace, with an unflinching brutality that Waite makes work.
Oline H. Cogdill reviewed this book for The Sun Sentinel.