on 24 February 2008
This is a superbly written book with characters that have lives tangibly of their own making. Although a couple of twists are not clearly plotted the story resolves as it should, which may disappoint thrill seekers - but then this book is in part about them and what happens once they crossover into the darkness (for whatever reason) where death reigns supreme. As always I found the author's description of the physical surroundings in which the story unfolds to be peerless, as is his ear for dialog, west Texan though it may be. Highly recommended...
Cormac McCarthy's first novel since completing the Border Trilogy in 1998 is a dramatic change of pace. Gone is the focus on the wild Texas plains and the encroachment of civilization. Gone are the lyrical descriptions of wild nature and young love. Gone is the belief that love and hope have a fighting chance in life's mythic struggles. Instead, we have a much darker, more pessimistic vision, set in Texas in the 1980s, a microcosm in which drugs and violence have so changed "civilization" that the local sheriff believes "we're looking at something we really aint even seen before."
Forty-five-year-old Sheriff Ed Tom Bell must deal with the growing amorality affecting his small border town as a result of the drug trade. The old "rules" do not apply, and Bell faces a wave of violence involving at least ten murders. Running parallel with Bell's investigation of these murders is the story of Llewelyn Moss, a resident of Bell's town, who, while hunting in the countryside, has uncovered a bloody massacre and a truck containing a huge shipment of heroin. He has also discovered and stolen a case containing two million dollars of drug money, which results in his frantic run from hired hitmen. Hunting Moss is Anton Chigurh, a sociopathic cartel avenger, a Satan who will stop at nothing, the antithesis of the thoughtful and kindly Bell. A rival hitman named Wells is, in turn, stalking Chigurh.
By far McCarthy's most exciting and suspenseful novel in recent years, the story speeds along, the body count rising in shocking scenes of depravity. Bell's first person musings about crime, society, and the people around him break the tension periodically, allowing the reader to ponder the wider implications of the action and to see it as a symbolic struggle for man's soul between good and evil, love and hate, God and Satan. As the violence continues and Bell becomes more discouraged, he visits his elderly Uncle Ellis, a former deputy sheriff and war veteran, and as they talk about World War I and the Vietnam War, where they were willing to give their lives for a presumably winnable cause, the contrast between those battles and this battle on the home front is seen in broader and bleaker perspective.
McCarthy's desire to preserve traditional values, and his grim vision of the present and future, reflect a view of life that many readers will not share. The artistry the reader has seen in McCarthy's thematic development throughout the rest of the novel is sacrificed in the last forty pages, in which Bell's overt warnings and cautionary remarks about the future sound preachy. Still, the novel is breathtaking in its construction, and Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is one of McCarthy's best-drawn characters. (4.5 stars) Mary Whipple
I'd never read anything by McCarthy before, but am a huge Coen Brothers fan -- so when I learned that their next project was an adaptation of this book, I made a mental note to check it out. Of course, about a year came and went before I actually read it, and by then the movie was in theaters. So the day after finishing the book, I went out and saw the movie, with the result that my impression of the book and the film are completely intermingled in ways I would have a very hard time untangling. That said, the film version is one of the most faithful adaptations I've come across and a very large portion of its brilliance can be directly credited to McCarthy's novel.
Set in the early 1980s in Texas, the story revolves around three men. First is Llewelyn Moss, a rugged, capable Vietnam vet in his late '30s or so, who lives an honest life, likes a good time, has a sense of humor, and is the kind of handy everyman that makes for a good protagonist. The story opens with him out hunting antelope near the Rio Grande. in the course of which he discovers the aftermath of a heroin deal gone bad: several shot up pickups and a lot of dead Mexicans. He also tracks down a case containing several million dollars, and doesn't hesitate to grab it.
The second main character is Sheriff Bell, a rugged, reflective, weary old-timer in whose county the killings occurred. He speaks to the reader directly in monologues throughout the book, tying the country's history of violence to the violence of the story's events as he tries to figure out just what is going on. These can be rather cheesy and hokey at times, but that's part of the point -- their style established the Sheriff's as a man of the past. The future is embodied by the final man in the trinity, Anton Chigurh. Forget your serial killer or gangster stories, this very odd hit man is among the purest incarnation of evil to be found in modern fiction. He has been hired to track down the missing money, and by his logic anyone who causes him any delay simply needs to be deleted.
Moss's is a classic moral dilemma: what would you do if you found a lot of money. Would it matter where the money came from? Would the amount matter? Etc. In theory, Moss could have gotten clean away with the money, however his own code of ethics betrays him. His return to the scene of the carnage to fulfill a dying man's meaningless request both exhibits his humanity and makes him the prey of this story. Soon he is playing a deadly hide and seek with both Mexican drug dealers and Chigurh, with Sheriff Bell perpetually a step or three behind the action, cleaning up the bodies. Moss's sense of honor isn't his only problem though -- he also suffers from the sin of pride -- in believing he can handle Chigurh, he is responsible for a portion of this tragedy.
For some readers, Moss's decisions may be so improbable and at odds with the stakes involved that they will be frustrated. However, it's important to realize that this isn't a straightforward crime story. McCarthy's clearly using the genre to speak to larger themes, with each of the three main characters as almost mythic figures in a moral landscape of good and evil. Meanwhile, he also subverts the genre in several ways that oughtn't be revealed here but may also greatly frustrate some readers. Nonetheless, told with simple, almost staccato language, this a gripping, somber, and very violent story -- one that makes for both and outstanding read and an outstanding film.
'It's a mess, aint it Sheriff?' 'If it aint it'll do till a mess gets here.' "Sheriff Bell's deputy says to him. And, yes, what a hell of a mess. 305 pages of a riveting book that I read in almost one sitting. I could not stop reading. The "old man" of the book if there is one, is Sheriff Bell. And his wife, Loretta, is the calming influence. Bell's voice is heard through out this book, in italicized version; we recognize that his down to earth common sense views are sure to calm down the violence that starts on page 4. The first murder, and then the second on page 5 and...
The setting is Texas, and the title of the book may be a simile for what is happening in our world and in Texas. Llewellyn Moss, a young cowboy, who works hard for a living and is out hunting antelope, stumbles upon millions of dollars, drugs and 8 dead men in the Texas desert and highland. He does what many of us would do, he takes the money. He understands that his life will never be the same, but it is worth it, isn't it? Money is trouble and Moss is in for as much trouble as anyone could imagine. He has his wife move from their trailer to her mom's to keep her safe. And, Moss, well Moss goes looking for that trouble. And, Zagnorch? Well, find out for yourself.
The character that I am intrigued with is Anton Chigurh. We meet him via a murder in which Chigurh goes from being handcuffed by a West Texas county deputy to driving away in his patrol car, splattered with blood. The telling of the murder is so gory, your heart stops but for a second. The heartlessness of Chigurh is burned into our memory, he will allow some of his victims to flip a coin for their life, but that is just as grizzly as the murders.
The dignity and honor of Moss is contrasted with the heartlessness of Chigurh. We are rooting for Moss, and we understand this may be a little foolishness on our part. As Sheriff Bell says,the problems with our society now starts with the lack of manners. No one says, yes sir, anymore and it is all down hill from there. The lessons stated and learned in Cormac McCarthy's new book are many. We understand we are in the presence of a literary genius. Such a well written and played out novel.
As Sheriff Bell states, "I think if you were Satan and you were settin' around tryin' to think up somethin' that would just bring the human race to its knees what you would probably come up with is narcotics." Money is the root of all evil. Millions of dollars may be equitable to evil, but wouldn't we all like to have a chance to experience it? Anton Chigurh may be likened to evil; will we look evil in the face again?
on 28 February 2008
A good read, characters are solid, and the decription of the landscape and small hick towns are superb. The pace sets of at a rate of knots. By the middle of the book things slow down somewhat. I had already guessed the ending pretty much, and I have to admit that i read this in a day!
I saw the film last night and realised just how well the characters were formed, the film remains true to the story, and ends in the same way. The dialogue of the film is also true to the book. Both mediums left me a bit empty, I just can't put my finger on it, it's a well written piece, but it does lack something.
on 15 January 2008
For me this novel was only superficially a thriller: the violent, bleak plot which other reviewers have outlined is punctuated by the narrator's thoughts on the modern US, and by extension the world, and his feeling of dislocation from it. I think it is from this theme that the novel takes its title. He is, in the opinion of another character, a 'hick sherriff, from a hick county, and a hick state': except that he isn't. On the verge of retirement, he is at pains to understand the increasing level of drug-related crime and violence he has to deal with. The novel captures, in beautifully uncluttered writing, the harsh landscapes of south and west Texas. Some other readers have said they found it difficult to get used to the vernacular - I didn't find this a problem at all: in fact I thought it added greatly to the atmosphere of the novel. All in all, a worthwhile read. It was the first novel by this writer I had read, but it did make me want to read others by him.
on 30 August 2007
There are some very well written reviews on this already so all I want to add is that Anton Chigurh has got to be one of the most chilling evil characters created since Hannibal Lecter. Like Lecter, who cannot abide rudeness, Chigurh kills those who offend him.
This is easily read, scary as hell and does not have a cheerful ending. Read the other reviews for more literary insights.
on 29 April 2007
While hunting near the Rio Grande Llewlyn Moss stumbles upon a heroin transaction gone wrong: trucks shot up and several dead bodies, some of them Mexican. Inside one of the trucks Moss finds a leather document case level full of hundred dollar banknotes in packets fastened with bank tape stamped each with the denomination $ 10,000. When Moss decides to leave the scene of the crime with the money little does he suspect that this is the beginning of a wild and bloody manhunt between him and Anton Chigurh who is determined to get hold of the money.
Although a standard western good-guy bad-guy plot at first sight, this novel is serious literature with an absorbing and chilling plot which can be seen as a study of a burning American rage and how common that rage has become. Chigurh is a truly sinister character and the novel meditates on the fight between good and evil in men and society. McCarthy's language is stunningly economical. Characters are often defined by a single line of conversation and places made vivid within the confine of a sentence. And he is very good at capturing the tenor of the south Texan dialogue.
on 9 August 2005
I have read the "Border Trilogy," and "All the Pretty Horses" was my favorite, especially the horse breaking scenes and the scenes set in the Mexican Prison. BUT a lot of the time McCarthy leaves me scratching my head. Sometimes his stories go wandering off on tangents I just don't get (I sometimes fear I am just not intelligent enough to understand his point). This book however is more direct and simply laid out. A kind of modern day thriller that has so much more going on.
The basic story is this: While out hunting along the Rio Grande river, Llewelyn Moss, a Texas welder, stumbles upon $2 million, and a bunch of herion ready for the street all guarded by a dead man. Ross takes the money and is soon on the run from drug dealers, assassins, and the law. The author uses the plot as way to explore good and evil, heaven and hell, right and wrong; and do these things even exist?
The book also contains plenty of action and some very gory, brutal scenes, so if you are bothered by graphic violence be forwarned! The Violence, though is central to the story and the issues the author is exploring.
To sum up this is an excellent thriller read with a lot more to say, than just entertain. I also recommend "Tourist in the Yucatan" another Violent thriller, set in Mexico, about a gringo on the run from people on both sides of the law, while also trying to find his missing wife.
on 21 March 2016
The story is that, when Cormac McCarthy was beginning his writing career, he was advised by a professor of English Literature not to use speech marks or speech attribution - ie ‘Go away,’ Joe said. If that professor is still alive and you come across him I’d be grateful if you’d do me a favour. Ask him to remove his glasses and give him a right good poke in the eye for me. This stylistic quirk works in this book most of the time (with good dialogue you can often tell who is speaking without attribution) but, occasionally, you get confused as to who is speaking and whether or not it is speech or the character thinking. To my mind, the use of speech marks/attribution is simply good manners on the part of the author. When it is in the form of ‘Joe said’ and it is broken up with the subject’s thoughts and reactions you don’t notice it.
Anyway, now that I’ve got that out of the way. I read this book after seeing the film twice – and loving it. The plot is simple. Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon a drug deal in the desert that has gone horribly wrong. Bodies and bullet-riddled 4x4s everywhere. Packages of herion, a caseload of cash. This is Moss’s chance. He takes the money and goes on the run, pursued by Chigurh, a mob hit-man, and a soon-to-retire sheriff. Even though I was familiar with the plot and the characters, I enjoyed the book and read it at a fair lick. McCarthy is terrific at setting scenes, defining character with a few deft brush-strokes and pacing a thriller.
There were a few things that irritated me, however, apart from the lack of speech marks/ attribution.
Overuse of the word ‘and’. Too many passages went like this: ‘and he sat down and tucked into his breakfast and ate a tortilla and drank some coffee and wiped his mouth...’ I must say that here it works in action scenes but when overused it grates.
Chigurh, the hitman, uses a compressed air cylinder to power a cattle stun-gun contraption to murder his victims and blow out the cylinders of locks – mainly on the front doors of houses and hotel rooms. Great idea and it works well on the screen. Except... most houses have deadlocks and bolts. Maybe if a victim was off their guard and just had the Yale lock on it would work. I know it’s a home security detail but...
Chigurh is a nasty piece of work. Trouble is, he’s not human. He’s like a Terminator-style robot programmed to kill. Throughout the book there are italicised passages which set out the sheriff’s thoughts. In the first, he thinks ‘somewhere out there is a true and living prophet of destruction’. Maybe this is what Chigurh is meant to be, but I would have liked a little background and characterisation – even if it is at the level of Alan Rickman’s badass Sheriff of Nottingham who whispers in a victim’s ear as the knife goes in: ‘I had a terrible childhood, you know – I’ll tell you about it some time’.
And, finally, the ending. I hate authors messing me around. If I’m rooting for the protagonist and he gets shot (along with his wife) well before the end, with the rest of the book given to philosophising by the about-to-retire sheriff on how everything in America is going to hell in a handbasket (to be fair, he’s probably right), then I’m being messed around. I don’t like it. I don’t necessarily want the protagonist to win but I want a climax at the end. Got that?
The film actually improves on the book by putting the climax much closer to the end. But there is another inconsistency in the book. After the executions we have a key scene in which Chigurh is driving down the road and another vehicle crashes into him. The scene is related from the point of view of an omniscient narrator who gives details of the other vehicle and its driver that Chigurh couldn’t possibly know. Who is speaking here? The author? God? He hasn’t piped up before so I don’t think it is a postmodernist thing. In the film the scene is a simple car crash seen from Chigurh’s point of view. Much better.
So, to conclude. A really good snappy read but with some inconsistencies and irritating stylistic quirks.