Bringing a seven-year silence to an end, Cormac McCarthy has finally returned with a contemporary wild West tale that is his most accessible book to date. A novel that simmers with a who's-gonna-die-next type of tension, No Country for Old Men has a powder keg of a plot and reads like a breeze, yet it retains all the best elements of such McCarthy books as Blood Meridian and All the Pretty Horses, featuring the same classic dialogue and unforgettable characters that made those narratives so remarkable. Indeed, fans should have no quarrel with the new book except, perhaps, that it bears the reader all too swiftly along to a conclusion.
Setting the story in motion is Llewelyn Moss, a Vietnam veteran who stumbles across $2 million and several dead bodies the aftermath of a drug deal gone bad while hunting antelope in the deserts of southwest Texas. Moss makes off with the money only to be pursued by a hit man named Anton Chigurh. A quiet killer with an existential bent, Chigurh has a strange sense of higher calling where killing is concerned and, as if in perverse delight at the varied tools of destruction at his disposal, has fixed upon a fantastic apparatus for dispatching his victims: a stun gun, the kind used for slaughtering cattle. Chigurh's novel method of elimination lends a sensational aura to a case that as the body count mounts eventually involves the DEA, the state police, the Texas Rangers and the Border Patrol. The reason nobody knows what he looks like is that they dont none of em live long enough to tell it, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell says of Chigurh. Bell, the good old-fashioned lawman in whose county the initial killings occur, is acquainted with Moss and his young wife, Carla Jean. The novel follows his attempts to make sense of the mess Moss has fallen into and to track Chigurh. Although the book is narrated from the perspectives of various characters, the sheriff's point of view dominates, and his insights are featured in italicized passages at the start of each chapter. In the end, the quest for Chigurh alters Bell's life forever, leading him to re-evaluate his past, his career and his ideas about the future. In terms of technique, No Country for Old Men represents something of a departure for McCarthy. His trademark density and tendency towards stylistic extravagance have been replaced by a cool, spare clarity. Yet the power of his prose remains undiminished. No Country for Old Men is a contemporary story that feels ancient and weathered and wise, with a sense of timelessness and truth that's particular to all of the author's work. Another significant entry in the McCarthy canon, this book was worth the wait.