This debut novel starts in the mountains of Washington State near Seattle, where a drug drop by plane goes wrong when a local sheriff, Drake, accidentally stumbles on the two men who are collecting the drugs, one of whom, Hunt (for some reason the author uses only surnames), is a former convict now running a horse farm, but still willing to do the occasional drug pickup. (The other one is a young man who is arrested, but killed while in jail on remand.) The loss of the drugs is the incident that leads Hunt to be forced to participate in a much more sinister, and ultimately violent, operation involving drug smuggling using young women from the Far East as `mules'. Again this goes wrong, and Hunt is pursued in a lethal race to recover the drugs by their Vietnamese owners and a psychopathic killer, Grady, hired by a lawyer who is the Vietnamese contact in America, anxious to redeem himself in the eyes of his employers. He is also being chased by the forces of the law, represented by a DEA agent, Driscoll, and Drake himself, the latter being drawn in rather reluctantly by Driscoll. There are many violent deaths on the way, some of villains, others `innocent bystanders', most carried out by Grady, until the climax in which Grady himself perishes at the hands of Hunt while saving Drake's life. Hunt then disappears with his wife and escapes the law, aided a year or so later when Hunt's wife is detained by the police in a neighbouring district, but Drake deliberately fails to identify her, leading to her release. His debateable `excuse' to himself is that the Hunts are basically decent people that bad things have happened to.
There are many ingredients of a modern crime story here: drugs, a psychopathic killer, a tenacious law officer, a `reformed' convict forced by his past to live on the edge of crime etc. But this is not a formulaic novel as some reviewers have suggested. There are a few other books (`No Country for Old Men, for example) that are similar, but none are quite like this. The descriptive writing, for example of the snow covered mountains, is very good indeed and although the development of the main characters is somewhat weaker, it is good enough that we get a clear picture of who they are and what they stand for. The sparse, almost detached way in which the more violent and horrific scenes are described is very effective and increases their impact. It is not a book one can easily put down. I am sure we will be hearing much more of the author Urban Waite in the future.