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No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

By Diana Mican | Books | May 4, 2010 |

By Diana Mican | Books | May 4, 2010 |

I know I’ve seen the movie, but I don’t remember much of anything except Javier Bardem and that hair. You just don’t expect a Ramona Quimby hairstyle on your sociopathic killer. Maybe I should, but I don’t.

Hitman Anton Chigurh is after some drug money that Llewelyn Moss, a welder and veteran, unwittingly came across in an open field. He knows he’s in trouble, and he hits the road with the Chirgurh on his heels. One of the many following Chigurh’s bloody trail is Sheriff Bell, the last of his kind and about to retire. He knows Moss is in deep shit, and he wants to find him before Chigurh does.

The novel follows Bell, Chigurh, and Moss through a third-person narration with regular italicized first-person interjections of Bell’s thoughts on the changing times and his judgments of the crimes and criminals. We follow the characters as they trek throughout Texas and Mexico - McCarthy’s territory.

The entire novel is a one long cat-and-mouse game. As a small-town sheriff, Bell constantly struggles with the enormity of the situation. He compares the old ways of keeping law in the land with his current predicament. He knows sheriffs who don’t even carry a weapon. A sheriff who knows the phone numbers of all his citizens.

Chigurh is a new breed. He is not the sort of criminal Bell can understand. The code has changed.

“I used to say they were the same ones we’ve always had to deal with. Same ones my grandaddy had to deal with. Back then they was rustlin cattle. Now they’re runnin dope. But I don’t know as that’s true no more. I’m like you. I aint sure we’ve seen these people before. Their kind. I don’t know what to do about em even. If you killed em all they’d have to build an annex on to hell.”

And Bell just can’t keep up.

“Finally I just said: Loretta, I cant do it no more. And she smiled and she said: You aim to quit while you’re ahead? And I said no mam I just aim to quit. I ain’t ahead by a damn sight. I never will be.”

The book ends just as the title suggests. It’s sad. It feels unfair. Bell is out. Chigurh is free. You know it has to be this way. The old lawmen don’t stand a chance against Chigurh. It will take a new breed who can understand and predict his actions to stop him.

I will never look at a coin toss the same way again.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Diana’s reviews, check out her blog, Badinage.