This is one of those novels that is in my head as just perfect or near-perfect in execution. That list also includes The Great Gatsby and The Metamorphosis and Heart of Darkness. It may or may have much to say about enjoyment or heights of reading or anything like that but about precision of form and content, and especially economy of language. I define literature in fiction as telling a story in the only possible way.
So in this book, and this is a reread for the first time in about 10 years, we have three distinct protagonists who work in distinct ways to create the world of the novel. Bell, the sheriff, is an older near retirement Texas law enforcement officer who has seen enough of the world through his life, career, and his time in the world to come to conclusion that something is fundamentally broken in a new way, at least as concerns 1980s Texas/Mexico border law enforcement. We have Llewellyn Moss, a welder, a Vietnam vet, who while hunting antelope discovers a drug exchange go awry with numerous dead bodies, a huge load of Mexican heroin, and more importantly a satchel of cash, which he takes. And we have Anton Chigurgh, a preternatural tracker who ostensibly is seeking to recover the money, but acts in so many additional ways as a force of evil in the world.
The novel is told through incredibly sparse description and also through the pensive ruminations of Bell as he thinks through what feels like this new evil, as he interviews different people on the case, and as he decides what his role in this story is.
Bell is hardly an investigator in the case, but is instead a witness to the unfolding of a kind of inevitability partially set off by Moss deciding to take the money, but also simply by existing in the sphere of that botched drug case. The novel has no illusions that proximity and bad luck play as much a part in anyone’s involvement in the case as choices. People who do make choices to get involved certainly are subject to the violence this who novel contains, but two lives are subject to a literal coin flip, and plenty of others are fodder to the machinations of the affair. This is a deeply nihilistic novel at times, except in a few ways that Bell is able to help us understand. Bell twice indicates that he foresaw (through luck) opportunities to disengage from the violence, and these moments saved his life. And so while luck plays the ultimate role, there are places in which good luck can save lives.