Saturday, December 10, 2011

Hell is Empty, by Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series is set in Wyoming; the hero is a sheriff eternally anticipating retirement. The scenery and the quirkiness of the people who choose to live in such isolation are the most interesting parts of the books – there was one in which Walt went to Philadelphia, which prior to this I found the weakest installment – and Johnson is also good in depicting the horrific poverty of the local Native Americans. He frequently makes the Native characters a little too mystical, but they remain human and self-conscious about their mysticism.

Unfortunately, Hell is Empty is just Walt, pitted against a mountain, a snowstorm, and a sociopathic serial killer about whom we never learn enough. None of the entertaining supporting cast, and really no plot other than Walt climbing a mountain and having mystical visions. The whole thing felt very insubstantial, as if it should have been about a third of a whole book.

Dante is used as a springboard and metaphor – Walt is carrying a copy of the Inferno with him – but that didn't feel fleshed out either, or fully utilized, although it plays its part in insuring that the reader figures out Walt's guide isn't real long before Johnson wants us to. And once we've figured that out, who's to say any of it is real? Who's to say that Walt isn't going to wake up at the end having dreamed the whole thing? The narrative is in first person, and once it's been established that Walt is an unreliable narrator because he's seeing things, it's impossible to get caught up in his battle with the elements. I was pretty sure that it was going to turn out he got shot in chapter five and was lying in a snowbank hallucinating everything after that. (It doesn't go that far, but I wouldn't have been surprised.)

I was really pretty disappointed in this. I will check out the next one, of course, when it comes out, but I hope that it has more in the way of plot and less hypothermia madness.

Next up: Sins of the House of Borgia, by Sarah Bower, which looks insanely trashy.

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