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Lives in 'Carrion Birds' as barren as Western landscape

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‘The Carrion Birds'

Author: Urban Waite

Publisher: William Morrow, $25.99, 288 pages

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Oline H. Cogdill
Saturday, June 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A criminal who vows to go straight after that one last job is a tried and true idea, but Urban Waite makes the idea seem fresh as he adds the disintegrating of a family to his plot.

Akin to the brutal yet solid storytelling of the movie “The Wild Bunch” and Jim Thompson's “The Getaway,” Waite delves into Western noir as he looks at destructive moral dilemmas.

More than 12 years ago, Ray Lamar left his home of Coronado, N.M., after his wife was killed and his toddler son left brain damaged in a car crash. Her death was retaliation against Ray by a drug cartel. 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 like twins. 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. But Ray has barely begun before everything goes horribly wrong. Both cousins want the kind of life that they can never have because it was torn apart by violence. Added to the mix is Edna Kelly, the current sheriff who is loyal to Tom, her former boss, but also to enforcing the law. Her professionalism and compassion add texture to the tale.

Set in a dying town where dried up oil wells and abandoned homes dot the landscape, “The Carrion Birds” uses the barren area as a metaphor for the characters' lives. Waite makes the reader feel the arid desert while making an unlikable character such as Ray sympathetic. “The Carrion Birds” moves briskly, with an unflinching brutality.

Oline H. Cogdill is a staff writer for the Sun Sentinel (South Florida).

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