Hell is Empty by Craig Johnson: A review

Hidden somewhere in Walt Longmire's closet must be one of those special suits that cartoon superheroes wear. A red, white, and blue cape with matching tights perhaps. He certainly gives every indication of being one of the Indestructibles in this entry of Craig Johnson's series about the sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. He endures a blizzard with gale-force winds and temperatures of forty degrees below zero, a forest fire that traps him in a lake and forces him to go underwater to survive, days with little food and less sleep, confronting a mountain lion, being shot, nearly falling off a mountain - the list goes on and on. But, in the end, he's left alive, sitting on his front porch enjoying pleasant spring weather with his friend Henry Standing Bear, his deputy/lover Vic Moretti, and his daughter Cady.

We only get that one glimpse of pleasant weather. It seems that all of these Walt Longmire stories take place in winter when a blizzard is blowing through the Wyoming mountains. And winter seems to last for much of the year. The action in Hell is Empty takes place in May but winter is still most definitely on the scene. 

The action opens with Walt and his deputy Santiago Saizarbitoria (aka Sancho) helping to transport three convicts, murderers all, on their way to their assigned prisons. Transporting convicts across rugged country in a van...hmm, I wonder what could go wrong.

A full force of law enforcement is involved, including FBI and other local sheriffs and prison guards, but, soon enough, what we expected happens and the criminals escape, killing or wounding several of the lawmen in the process. Walt and Sancho were not present at this time, but they soon realize that something is wrong and find the scene of carnage and the convicts gone, taking hostages with them.

One of the convicts is a particularly bad character, a sociopath whom Walt has lately learned had, ten years earlier, killed a young man named Owen White Buffalo. Walt has history with the White Buffalo family, particularly Virgil White Buffalo, who we met in a previous book and who we eventually learn was Owen's grandfather. Part of the reason for the convicts being taken through that part of Wyoming was that the killer had promised to show them where he had buried the victim.

With a storm on the way and communication with the outside world patchy at best, Walt leaves Sancho in charge of the wounded and heads out on his own to track the sociopath. Sancho fills a backpack of supplies for Walt and includes the book he was currently reading, one that was on a list recommended to him by his co-workers. It is Dante's Inferno. Let's see, wasn't Virgil the guide through the different levels of that Hell? I wonder if there could be a connection...

I won't really bore you with the plot. In fact, there isn't much of one except that Walt pushes on through fire and ice, and refuses to give up when any sensible human being would have stopped and waited for the back-up which was on the way. He chases his prey up Cloud Peak, where he's been before in this series. It might as well be named Mystic Mountain, because every time he goes up it, he seems to have a mystical experience involving the spirits of long-dead Indians. Spirits which he refuses to acknowledge or discuss once he gets off the mountain.

This novel was written as a thriller and had very little of the sardonic humor that usually makes the series such a pleasure to read. Moreover, there was little or no interaction with the supporting characters that are so much a part of these stories. It was just all Walt, Superhero, all the way through. It wasn't bad. The connection between Dante's Inferno and that Virgil and Walt's Inferno and Virgil White Buffalo may have been laid on a bit thick, but I found it interesting. The sections featuring Walt's conversations with Virgil White Buffalo were the most enjoyable parts for me. On the whole, though, this was not one of my favorite Longmire stories.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars  


  1. Too bad that it wasn't your favorite Longmire mystery. I find that weather events lend themselves to be very "atmospheric" (pun intended) ;-) to enhance otherwise unremarkable scenes. I rather like the use of that literary device. However, I don't like when the hero goes full blown superhero, defying death endlessly; it's unnatural.

    1. That was my main objection to this one. I don't want Walt to be a superhero. He should just be a down-to-earth human.

  2. Sounds like a mix with interesting aspects but underwhelming parts. I will have to ask hubby if he remembers this one. I know he's read it.


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