Friday, June 10, 2011

"Hell is Empty"

Craig Johnson has received high praise for his Sheriff Walt Longmire novels The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished, Another Man's Moccasins, and The Dark Horse, which received a superfecta of starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal, and was named one of Publishers Weekly's best books of the year (2009). Keir Graff, in a Booklist starred review of last year's Junkyard Dogs, called Johnson "a born storyteller if ever there was one."

Johnson applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Hell Is Empty, the seventh Walt Longmire mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Chapter 5

I threw myself sideways, multiplying the speed of my descent by slipping on the ice.

The report of the .223 was very loud, along with the sound of my grunt when I hit the ground immediately following the sharp SPAK of the bullet going through the back window of the closed half of the van where I’d been standing.

I rolled over and looked at the bullet hole in the glass, small shards and snow still floating down on me as I reconsidered what an intelligent man would’ve done in this situation. I had an image of my smarter self, seated in the relative warmth of the Suburban parked at the road head, munching on a year-old Snickers bar.

Usually in these situations, it’s a maxim that the first person to move is the first person to die. It was possible that the shooter thought they’d hit me, and I could wait to see if they’d show, but that meant lying in the snow, exposed for longer than I really cared to be. I rolled back over and tried looking from under the Suburban, but the snow was too deep.

If I wanted a clear view, I was going to have to crawl out along the sides, which meant really showing myself; something I was loath to do. I reached over and picked up my hat, dusting it off and placing it back on my head.

Small comforts, but I always felt better with my hat on.
This excerpt is pretty indicative of the novel with the exception that this particular page doesn’t have any Dante on it—how did that happen? When I set out to write Hell is Empty, I knew it was going to be reminiscent of Walt’s adventures in the twelfth chapter of my first novel, The Cold Dish, but that it was going to have to be different. I didn’t want to do a repeat of what I’d already done, and I started thinking about what the new novel was really about; cycles of life, death, redemption—and when I started casting about for a seminal piece of literature that would address these issues, I quickly came to Dante’s Inferno.

I didn’t want the book to descend (pardon the term) into a simple manhunt, and the other thing I counted on was Walt’s sense of humor, which comes across in this segment pretty well. My sheriff is in a tight spot, but he’s always thinking. I had a Captain tell me one time, “You can lose you badge, hell, you can even lose your gun—but just don’t lose your sense of humor and you’ll be fine.”

As long as you’re laughing, you’re thinking, and as long as you’re thinking, you’re living…
Learn more about the book and author at Craig Johnson's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue