Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
There is a classic photograph of an American town in the Great Depression called “Sometimes the electricity fails”. In a small town just holding on, that matters. Urban Waite brings it up to date and perhaps DEAD IF I DON’T could have an alternative title: sometimes the oil runs out.
Remember that parts of the southern USA have had their economic well-springs in the oil industry, and other parts have just had the oil drained out of them and the economy has moved on. Coronado in New Mexico is one such town: the oil is gone and the mayor wants to keep any remaining business they can. He would not want attention drawn by a visit of the Federales, but with kids getting shot, blocks of heroin going missing and fiery SUVs being driven into bars his sheriff is going to have a hell of a job keeping it out of the news.
Urban Waite concentrates on Ray Lamar, one guy just holding on. That is holding onto his house and holding onto his life, though his life is mostly over. That came close to ending with his wife’s death and the accident that left his child brain damaged. Now he is reduced to trying to pay his way by doing one last job for the syndicate, intercepting another narco-cartel’s delivery across the desert border. What with having the boss’s incompetent, know-it-all nephew dumped on him (“learning the rops” anyone?) and a possible double-cross that is not going to be easy. When the nephew screws up the murder of a witness everything starts to go to hell in handcart.
And Ray Lamar is just one. Back in town the only bar is run by a patsy for the mob who is planning his own exit, while the police force is undermanned, with the previous generation of officers driven out in a previous clustermuck still taking an interest. I quickly stopped expecting anyone to survive, and I was not disappointed.
Grim expectations. This is Urban Waite’s second novel, and although I have not read The Terror Of Living I went away and read a synopsis, as Dead If I Don’t includes so much backstory that I thought it was summarising that earlier book. It is seems it is not, the earlier book being set in the Pacific North-West. While the catch-up (or story arc) material helps explain why everyone happens to be in Coronado I found that it slowed down the narrative. An earlier Guardian review of The Terror Of Living identifies Hemingway among Urban Waite’s heroes. Perhaps Waite could have learned something from Hemingway’s own narrative of a death foretold, “The Killers’, a short story. Otherwise his story of crime in an economic depression simply seems too depressing.