About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Hell is Empty by Craig Johnson

32. – 664.) Hell is Empty by Craig Johnson – There is really no way to review this book without revealing more of the plot than I would like to in review. I do not consider the following to contain major spoilers. I defy a reader to put the book down once started.

The 7th Walt Longmire book moves from mystery to thriller. It is a heart pounding chase through the Bighorn Mountains. There is no detecting to be done. There are criminals to be caught.

It is early May and Walt is called upon to deliver a trio of murderers to Federal agents on the edge of Absaroka County. Raynaud Shade has said he will take the authorities to the spot where he buried the body of a 7 year old boy he had killed many years ago. The challenge for county, state and federal police agencies is that the boundaries of 3 Wyoming counties and a Federal National Forest intersect in the vicinity of the body’s location. In the end, the alleged burial spot is in Absaroka County.

The trio of prisoners remain constantly shackled, even while eating. Marcel Popp has killed a South Dakota highway patrolman and two Nevada city policemen. Hector Otero murdered a couple of people in Houston. Shade is the most dangerous. Born in the Northwest Territories of Canada to an Indian mother and white father, Shade, after horrific circumstances, ended up adopted by a Crow Indian family in America. His latest murders involved killing people to sell their organs for transplants.

Shade startles Walt by telling him that he hears the voices of Indian departed just like Walt. In an earlier book Walt had heard the sounds of the Old Cheyenne spirits who lurk in the mountains.

Reading about Shade sent a little shiver up my back. The one eyed killer exudes menace.

I know of no way to set up the book beyond to say that there is an escape and Walt goes after them. I will provide no details of the escape.

While it is early May the weather is cruel and a powerful spring storm assaults the Bighorn Mountains. The chase is epic. I was reminded of Joe Pickett in Savage Run on another great Wyoming mountain chase. Walt faces far greater challenges than Pickett.

Vicious weather and the mountain terrain are vital elements of the story. I have felt the overwhelming cold Walt must deal with in the mountains. It is as far from the urban car chase as it is possible.

Amidst the pursuit excerpts from Dante’s Inferno are quoted. It takes no skill to see Walt is in a living hell.

To me the chase became a quest as Walt battled the weather, the country and the killers in the pursuit. He provided a compelling reason for continuing the quest rather than waiting for backup. He asked himself if he were in the group being pursued would he want an officer to wait for backup forces or press on alone.

There are mystical aspects to the case which are not my favourite part of mysteries. Johnson handles the area well and, in the end, they did not detract the book for me. Who among us has not had the lines between reality and dream blur a bit to a lot at times of great stress? The spirit world is especially alive for indigenous peoples in North America.

The quest would not work well as the basis for a series but it is a fresh and striking departure from the other Walt Longmire mysteries. Johnson is not following a formula. Hell is no longer empty by the end of the book. (June 18/12)


  1. Bill - Oh, this does sound like one of those books one simply must read all the way through. This is one I've not yet read, too, so now I have more to anticipate. Thanks for the review and thank you for not including spoilers. I know how difficult it can sometimes be to avoid doing that.

  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. It is fun to read a high paced thriller relentlessly driving forward.

  3. I only skimmed this review because I am working my way through this series. But I do like the depth of your reviews. Actually the battle through the storm in the first book in the series (I hope I am remembering correctly) was my least favorite part, but I do like the books a lot.