Friday, July 15, 2011

To hell and back. In darn good company.

Hell Is Empty by Craig Johnson


Craig Johnson, I love you, I do. But the way you put poor Walt Longmire in peril… it worries me. I swear to the heavens, I nearly did that thing where a person looks ahead to make sure everything turns out OK. (I can’t ever actually do that, so instead I just carried the book with me everywhere I could sneak in a half-page of reading at odd free moments so I could find out what happens without having to wait a moment longer than necessary.)


Usually Craig Johnson makes me crack up, because Walt and his sidekicks have that wonderfully dry humor thing going on. This book, it ain’t funny. And damn, but it still works.


Here, we got Sheriff Longmire headed into the blizzardy mountains to face his demons and to track a truly bad, bad, bad guy who’s on the loose and killing people right and left. And Walt’s solo, just like he was back in The Dark Horse (2 books ago), and I’m here to tell you: He’s wry when he’s with others, and he’s downright valiant when he’s on his own. Here he is: “That’s how I was thinking about myself of late, like a Marine mule that didn’t have enough sense to lie down and die. It wasn’t the most comforting of thoughts, but it got me up the hill.” (p. 256)


Thing is, Walt’s a former Marine, and Walt’s a sheriff who’s sworn an oath. Damn, I love Walt.


This novel has Dante’s Inferno as its basis, and Walt’s descending (yet ascending), with his guide Virgil White Buffalo, into the various circles of hell—fire and ice and the whole darn mess.


I read the Inferno in college, and I don’t hope to ever repeat that feat. But it’s one of those things where I’m glad I read it, in part because I get what’s going on with Walt and the others.


And it made this book even more perfect.


Bookish asides:


Walt’s office is in a former Carnegie library. (Love it!)


The other characters made a reading list for deputy Sancho Saizarbitoria, and it’s included in an Appendix. And the lists are just filled with good stuff: The Ox-Bow Incident (Walt), The Things They Carried (Henry), My Antonia (Ruby), The Maltese Falcon (Dorothy), and A River Runs Through It (Ferg).


One more thing—Guys, I’m poorly edumacated, and here’s more proof: It was only when Googling the title of this book that I learned that it was part of a Shakespeare quote (“Hell is empty, and all the devils are here”). Damn good quote, that. Way better than my usual phrase for such situations: “It is what it is.”


Here’s the thing, though. If I were to be stuck on a desert island, I’d be picking Craig Johnson books way before I’d be picking Shakespeare. There that is.


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