This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Saturday, 24 November 2012

No Country For Old Men: Review

Genre:Mystery & Thrillers
Author:Cormac McCarthy
How much would you pay to buy $2.4 million? Would you pay your life?

Hunting for antelope near the Mexican border, an ex-Vietnam War veteran called Llwelyn Moss comes across the aftermath of a drug war – shot up vehicles and several dead men. In one of the bullet riddled trucks he finds a dying Mexican who asks him for “agua” (water), and also a fortune in heroin. He decides to track down the winner of the battle, because clearly someone must have walked away victorious. Some distance away he finds the corpse of the mortally wounded winner – and also a briefcase containing $2.4 million. (The story is set in 1980, when that money was worth even more than it is now.)

Although he realises that whoever the money belonged to would be coming after him for it, Moss chooses to take it and run. He makes it back to his trailer and his young wife, who doesn’t believe him when he tells her what he’s brought. However, obsessed by the thought of the Mexican he has abandoned to die in the desert, he goes out with water that night back to the trucks. But the Mexican is dead, and the ‘others” are here, and waiting.

Chased through the night, abandoning his truck, Moss somehow makes it back to his trailer. He packs off his wife to her grandmother’s (mother’s in the film of the book) and takes off himself, with the money.

Meanwhile, a sheriff’s deputy arrests a man called Anton Chigurh who carries around a captive bolt pistol (normally used to exterminate cows) and a compressed air tank to activate it. Chigurh calmly strangles the deputy with his handcuffs, takes his official car, uses it to flag down an innocent driver, murders him, takes HIS car, and meets up with two men representing one of the parties in the drug war. Chigurh, it’s obvious by now, is a professional hitman, and after he studies the battle scene and Moss’ abandoned truck he shoots the men dead and take a tracker they have been using, unsuccessfully, to look for the money. Using the registration of Moss’ truck, Chigurh finds where he lives and breaks into the trailer, but the couple are long gone. From the phone records they left behind, Chigurh finds out where the wife has gone.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is trying to solve the murders but getting nowhere fast. A World War 2 vet still grappling with memories of an incident where he abandoned his dying squad members and ran (subsequently, as he confesses, being awarded a medal for the action) he too visits Moss’ wife but gets no information from her. Moss runs but cannot run far enough or fast enough, because there are many on his trail: Chigurh, who considers himself honour-bound to kill him, the Mexican drug gang, and also Carson Wells, a former partner of Chigurh who has been hired to bypass him and get the money; and because, as he finds out a bit too late, there is a hidden transponder in the pile of money.

I won’t give away any further details of the plot except to say this: Anton Chigurh has just replaced Hannibal Lecter as my absolute favourite literary villain, an ice cold killer who on two occasions forces potential victims to call on tossed coins to decide their own fate. And that the plot is refreshing because it turns the conventional ending of this sort of device on its overused head.

Or maybe I'm just ecstatic because this is the first book I read after that horrible bore, Paulo Coelho, whom I literally can't bring myself to review.

The writing is mostly fast paced and taut; the punctuation, except for commas and full stops, nonexistent. The only dispensable part is the rambling reminiscences of Sheriff Bell, who goes on and on and on for far too long and who could, in my opinion, have been written out of the book altogether without hurting the plot too much. If the author had reduced his part I'd have given this book a 5 star review. 

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