In the seventh installment of Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series, Walt finds himself tracking an escaped convict through the snow covered Bighorn Mountains.
Walt is back and he's managing to position himself in dangers way yet again. This time around Johnson's put a literary twist in the mix. HELL IS EMPTY intertwines itself with Dante's INFERNO. Readers need not worry if they haven't read INFERNO, the plot is still an exciting labyrinth of events. Those who have read INFERNO will appreciate the allusions and parallels to Dante's work.
Johnson is truly one of the masters writing in this genre today. He would be a master writing in any genre. His strengths as a writer are many, his weaknesses few - if any. The characters he sculpts are genuine people, folks you feel you could meet in your own neighborhood. The antagonists are as authentic as the protagonists. Sometimes they reflect our own worst traits and other times they reflect our own worst nightmares. In HELL IS EMPTY, they run the gamut:
"'It doesn't mean shit that you've stopped us; he's not like us. I mean, we're the kinds of guys that give people nightmares.' He shifted his weight and leaned back against the bulkhead with one shoulder. 'He's the kind of guy that gives us nightmares.'"Johnson's setting is as active a character as any human in the stories. The scenes are so alive that the reader will shiver with cold or swelter from heat, hear natures sounds and smell the aromas. HELL IS EMPTY is especially charged with the powers of nature, as Walt battles it as much as he battles the fugitive.
"The black fog had changed direction, pulling the oxygen from the arching wind that continued to blast its way down the valley, the fire using the ridge as a jumping-off point, not even backing up for a run at it. Lodgepole pines were exploding with the heat, and a crisscross of timber fell down the incline. The darkness lifted long enough to reveal massive logs exploding as the resin inside them reached boiling levels, branches, pine cones and needles swirling in armies of winged fire devils."I'm not a big paranormal reader; I'm too much of a cynic. But the mystical elements of the Walt Longmire series are among my favorites. Johnson's approach to them is respectful of the cultures from which they exist and it's beautiful amidst a plot of death and destruction. It helps that Walt is as much a cynic as I am, so the presence of the phenomena challenges Walt with the unexplainable.
Dialogue in this series is natural and smooth. Johnson makes use of dialect and colloquialisms to accentuate character. And of course, his humor is simply unparalleled.
"'I'm not kidding. These two Indians were just here, and they're looking for you.'Johnson takes all of these elements and blends them meticulously to create an amazing story. To put the icing on the cake, his mastery of language comes through in commanding imagery. In HELL IS EMPTY you will laugh, cry, gasp, and maybe even shudder. The power of words is never more evident than in a work from Craig Johnson. HELL IS EMPTY is his strongest evidence of that to date.
'I know. They're on our...they're on my side.'
'Well, I just thought that with you bein' a cowboy and all I better call you up and let you know. These were some really tough-looking dudes. The one guy, the really big one? I mean, they had guns all over 'em, but the one guy, the big one? He had this axe thing between his shoulders.' There was a pause. 'He took the gun away from me. I told him it wasn't loaded, but he took it anyway.'
'It's okay. He's a friend of mine.'
'I'm jus' sayin'.' There was some noise in the background, and I could hear someone else talking. 'I'm tellin' him about the Indians.'"
This is a series that I enjoy reading over. There is so much to discover with each reading and the stories never grow old. I'll wait patiently now for the audio version, and experience all the wonderfulness of HELL IS EMPTY over again. In the meantime, I'm suddenly having an urge to go back and reread INFERNO.
I had professed since book 3 that KINDNESS GOES UNPUNISHED was my favorite in the series. HELL IS EMPTY has just dethroned my favorite. I recommend this series to almost every reader I come in contact with. If you haven't experienced it yet, go directly to your bookstore and pick up a Walt Longmire now. If you have read his work, you know what I'm talking about and you're in for a great treat with HELL IS EMPTY.
HELL IS EMPTY from Viking will hit bookstores June 2, 2011, in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0-670-02277-9).