Sheriff Walt Longmire #7
2011/ ISBN 9780670022779
Police Procedural / Wyoming / Contemporary
by L J Roberts
First Sentence: “Didn’t your mother ever tell
you not to talk with your mouth full?”
What started as a routine hand-off of prisoners quickly became
anything but routine. Sociopath and child-killer Raymond Shade escapes
along with two other prisoners and two FBI hostages into the rugged
mountains of Wyoming. Also headed that way is a major spring blizzard.
Sheriff Walt Longmire, with a Colt .45, a Sharpe’s rifle,
copy of “Dante’s Inferno”, and Indian mysticism
heads into the mountains, and the storm, to save the hostages and
bring the killers to justice.
Normally, a book of this caliber prompts and long, detailed review.
“Hell is Empty,” however, is so well written and memorable,
it’s a book to be read rather than talked about.
The trademarks of Johnson’s writing are very much in evidence.
From the first sentence, you are drawn into the characters and the
environment. Not only are the white-hat characters interesting and
people you’d want on your side, and Walt is a true white-hat
character. He is intelligent, imperfectly human and has a drive
for justice that is reminiscent of Robert Parker’s Spenser
at his best.
Readers new to the series need have no fear of feeling they’ve
been dropped in without reference as Johnson quickly and succinctly
provides their frame and fleshes them out. But it takes a real skill
to create villains who are interesting and multi-dimensional as
well. One of Johnson’s most intriguing characters is Virgil
White Buffalo. At over 7 feet tall, and the grandfather of the murdered
boy, Virgil is a criminal, vessel of Indian mythology and philosopher.
Referring to “Dante’s Inferno”, Virgil observes
that “All the horrors in this book are the horrors of the
mind, and they are the only ones that can truly harm us.”
Evocative descriptions create a very strong, almost painfully so,
sense of place. Whether sitting in a café, trying to avoid
freezing from a storm or burning in a fire, you are walking along
side with Walt, trying to stay alive and, sometimes, looking at
Johnson’s writing and dialogue are effective and peppered
with wry humor. Walt, in a particularly perilous moment, thinks
“I couldn’t die—I had too many women who would
kill me.” Just when you think you know where the plot is going,
Johnson changes direction and, sometimes, your perceptions of events.
What could have been a stereotypical hard-boiled action story, is
so much more. The literary references enhance both the story and
the characters without ever feeling forced or contrived.
If anyone knows how to tell a story, it’s Craig Johnson,
and Hell is Emptyis one of his best.
Reviews of other titles in this series
Yard Dogs #6
Hell is Empty #7 [review
Other Name #10