Book Review: Craig Johnson’s Hell is Empty

Posted July 3, 2013 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Craig Johnson’s Hell is Empty

Hell is Empty


Craig Johnson

It is part of the Walt Longmire #7 series and is a mystery that was published by Viking Adult on June 2, 2011 and has 312 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books in this series include Wait For Signs

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished, Another Man's Moccasins, Christmas in Absaroka County, Dark Horse, Junkyard Dogs, As the Crow Flies, Spirit of Steamboat, A Serpent's Tooth, Any Other Name, Wait For Signs, Dry Bones, The Highwayman, "Eleven/Twenty-Nine", An Obvious Fact

Seventh in the Walt Longmire mystery series set in Wyoming and revolving around Sheriff Longmire.

Hell is Empty was on the New York Times bestseller list and was voted Library Journal‘s Best Mystery of the Year. If you’re interested, there is a chronological listing of the Walt Longmire books on my website.

My Take

And, in spite of all this, it’s my least favorite of the series and confusing.

I do love how Johnson ignores the whole politically correct thing and has fun with his cowboy and Indian jokes.

“‘Hey, how come you didn’t bring that other deputy, the good-looking one?’

… ‘I left the womenfolk behind. We heard there were Indians.'”

It’s awful. It’s tragic. And I don’t understand why Walt just has to keep punching his way through all this. It’s dumb and feels like a melodrama, although there are some funny bits such as Omar’s remark about being horny and Walt reckons he doesn’t want to help him out with that one. Mostly though, it’s a slow-forward chase with intermittent rescues and a few stories. A small part of me was terrified and worried with a much bigger part of me annoyed to hell and back.

I guess we’re supposed to be impressed with how gung-ho Walt is about doing his job. I’m sure that’ll make Cady happy if he doesn’t show up for her wedding.

Why are women so susceptible to convicts? It’s so stupid.

The flashback was confusing even with the bolded text. It took until the next one before I started to figure out what was going on.

I ain’t buyin’ Johnson’s implications about Virgil. How on earth would Virgil have overturned that snowmobile if he’s dead? And, oh yeah, Walt’s dead too. I am so confused.

The Story

Walt and Sancho can’t wait to hand off these three convicts to the FBI only it seems there’ll be a delay. One of the cons has promised to show the Feds where he buried a body. On land that’s in Walt’s jurisdiction.

An unexpected discovery finds Walt and Sancho turning back to find a massacre with McGroder barely alive, and Walt is determined that they won’t get away with this. Leaving Sancho behind with McGroder, Walt heads up into the mountains in a blizzard to track them down.

It’s a midnight chase through hell after a group of killers…

The Characters

Walt Longmire is the sheriff of Absaroka County in Wyoming. Henry Standing Bear is his best friend, a Northern Cheyenne. He and Henry need to discuss Cady‘s upcoming wedding.

Absaroka County deputies include:
Victoria Moretti is the undersheriff to whom Walt is attracted; Santiago “Sancho” Saizarbitoria is working his way through the lists of classic books everyone has made up for him — he reckons he needs to fill in some literary gaps; and, Ferg is a part-time deputy.

Joseph Iron Cloud is the Arapho sheriff of Washakie County. Troy Old Man is one of his deputies; Tommy “Grumpy” Wayman is sheriff of Big Horn County and Rosey’s cousin.

Special-Agent-in-Charge Mike McGroder and Special Agent Kasey Pfaff, a psychologist, along with Federal Marshall Tom Benton, Marshal Jon Mooney, and Agent Bob Belmont are taking over the prisoners. Calvin and Brian Heathman are the Ameri-Trans drivers.

The convicts include:
Marcel Popp is a biting, threatening sort; the brilliant Raynaud Shade is a quiet one, a Crow-adopted Canadian Indian with a horrible childhood; the cheeky Hector Otero; and, Calvin “Fingers” Moser and Freddie “Junkfood Junkie” Borland who had a thriving illegal organ donors business.

Owen White Buffalo is Virgil White Buffalo‘s grandson, Eli‘s son; we first met Virgil in Another Man’s Moccasins, 4.

Holli and Wayne Jones run the South Fork Lodge. Beatrice Linwood is a waitress there. Alfredo Coda is their flamboyant chef.

Omar Rhoades is a big-game hunter and guide in the series, who happens to do taxidermy on the side. He’s hoping Walt will let Jules Belden do his community service with him. Ruby is the Absaroka County police dispatcher. Dog is the dog Walt inherited from Lucian.

The Cover and Title

The cover makes me wonder if a volcano is exploding with its bright green overlay of this landscape: a vast forest with a river snaking through it and a mountain range centered in the background with a very beat-up title in bright red.

The title comes from Walt’s joking comment when he contacts Ruby, and I suspect he’s right: Hell is Empty.