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McCarthy's Taut Thriller

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No Country for Old Men

The words "thriller" and "Cormac McCarthy," seen together, seem like an oxymoron, but the famed novelist delivers just that with his latest blood-soaked work. Set in southwest Texas in 1980, No Country for Old Men tells the story of a psychopathic killer, a small-town sheriff, a former Special Forces agent and an interloper cursed with the burden of stumbling upon $2.4 million while hunting antelope near the Rio Grande.

A Vietnam vet-turned-welder named Llewelyn Moss finds the cash and several dead men scattered across the site of a heroin deal gone bad in the desert. By McCarthy's intricate storytelling standards, No Country reads like Dr. Seuss, so as soon as Moss decides to take the satchel stuffed with money, the reader knows an inevitable chase -- and collision course -- has been set in motion.

This novel, like all McCarthy's works, suffers from a surfeit of portentous Man Talk, often in the form of Biblical blustering about violence and its inexorable attraction. Women occupy a foreign world, an alien land where people don't maul one another at first opportunity.

McCarthy has been compared to Faulkner, but this time around he evokes Hemingway with taut, lean sentences. A typical example: "He threw away the flash light and lowered the hammer on the .45 and shoved it into the crotch of his jeans. Then he shucked off his boots and pulled them inside his belt upside down at either side and tightened the belt as far as he could pull it and turned and dove into the river."

As Moss takes to the road, tension builds with relentless momentum. McCarthy brings matters to a boil with gruesome accounts of psycho Anton Chigurh, who destroys victims with a cattle gun. Sheriff Bell, witness to the mayhem ushered into his rural county by Chigurh and the drug dealers, provides the novel's heavy-handed conscience.

The book's conclusion proves a bit too neat in its patented Gothic McCarthyisms, but then more resolution would have defied the expectations of McCarthy's literary legacy.

The ending could have used more of the book's earlier grim, sparse dialogue. For instance, as the galloping money chase begins, Bell offers a grim nod as he faces unspeakable horrors. Picking over a corpse, Bell's deputy asks, "It's a mess, aint it Sheriff?"

"If it aint," Bell says, "it'll do till a mess gets here."

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