Sep 22, 11
Read in August, 2011
With "Hell is Empty," Craig Johnson delivers an action-packed Western thriller, rife with evocative setting and literary allusion. This seventh novel featuring wise-cracking Sheriff Walt Longmire creeps stealthily out of the corral with an increasingly tense setup. Longmire and his colleagues are ferrying three prisoners, all of them convicted killers, up Wyoming's Bighorn Mountains to a remote spot where FBI operatives are waiting.
Though the prisoners are shackled, the atmosphere feels fraught with danger as they stop along the way for a meal. Between bites, one prisoner vows repeatedly to kill Longmire and all of his associates. But it's quiet Raynaud Shade who worries Longmire. He's the one who's promised to reveal where he buried the body of a Crow Indian boy.
With a dangerous spring ice storm threatening, Longmire and Deputy "Sancho" Saizarbitoria are all too happy to deliver the convicts and let the FBI take over. They've barely started for home base when the first shoe drops. The pair head back, dreading what they will find.
Raynaud Shade feels preternaturally villainous, and as Longmire tracks him, his journey echoes the circles of hell of Dante's "Inferno," a paperback copy of which Sancho has brought along for light reading. Longmire's guide, as in the poem, is Virgil, but here he's a giant Indian, swathed in bearskin. Between a blizzard, animal predators, and ghosts from present and past, Longmire needs all the help he can get. As he observes drily, "Hell is empty, and all the devils are here."
(Published in the Boston Globe, 8/2011)