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Book Review – Hell is Empty by Craig Johnson

SynopsisWyoming’s favorite sheriff braves a frozen inferno as he races to capture an escaped murderer.

Well-read and world-weary, Sheriff Walt Longmire has been maintaing order in Wyoming’s Absaroka County for more than thirty years, but in this riveting seventh outing, he is pushed to his limits. Raynaud Shade, an adopted Crow Indian, has just confessed to murdering a boy ten years ago and burying him deep within the Big Horn Mountains. After transporting Shade and a group of other convicted murderers through a snowstorm, Walt is informed by the FBI that the body is buried in his jurisdiction-and the victim’s name is White Buffalo. Guided only by Indian mysticism and a battered paperback of Dante‘s Inferno, Walt pursues Shade and his fellow escapees into the icy hell of the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area, cheating death to ensure that justice-both civil and spiritual-is served.

First Line:  “”Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to talk with your mouth full?”

Random Quote:  “I turned and gave my attention to Hector as I buttoned my sheepskin coat and slapped the mag back in the grip.  “I’m not sure how they do things down Texas way, but we try to keep guns out of the hands of convicted killers up here in Wyoming.”

ReviewHell is Empty is the seventh book in the Walt Longmire series and the second that I’ve read.  I’ll be going back for the rest throughout this winter – these are just that good.

With a title that quotes Shakespeare and an obsession with Dante, in general, and The Inferno, in particular, this book is less of a mystery and more of a thriller, less of a Western cop procedural and more of a classic hero’s journey.  I think all great heroes need one of these and Walt Longmire is definitely a great hero.

With a psychopathic prison escapee and his cohorts loose with hostages in the Big Horn Mountains in an ice storm, Longmire must trek into the mountain wilderness.  There just isn’t anyone else on the mountain who can get there in time to save the hostages.  Whether or not Longmire will get there in time is up for grabs.
Johnson writes the landscape and the winter as if they are characters central to the story and in most ways they are.  Longmire’s guides are a Native American shaman with an axe to grind against the worst of the prisoners and a paperback copy of The Inferno that makes its way through many different hands and provides a literary backdrop to what would otherwise be a fairly standard thriller.

Johnson develops the suspense and the tension from the very beginning of the book with shackled prisoners who still manage to make you uncomfortable.  The many chances for disaster are writ large across the first few chapters.

It can be difficult to write a character who is interesting enough to carry most of a book.  How many people are really that interesting, have interior lives we care about, can battle the elements and live?  In Walt Longmire, Craig Johnson has written a character that is worth knowing.  A modern Western Sheriff in an ever-changing world.  Read these books.

FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy from publisher for review


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