The novel No Country for Old Men follows three central characters: Llewellyn Moss, a young hunter who happens upon a drug deal gone bad; Anton Chigurh, a psychopathic killer; and Ed Tom Bell, a local Texas sheriff. The seemingly simple plot is that Moss finds (in the midst of a lot of dead bodies) a suitcase filled with over $2 million in cash. He takes the suitcase and is on the run throughout the story. Chigurh, who is somehow involved in the money exchange with the drug dealers, has one purpose in mind: getting the money back, no holds barred. Bell is the unlikely and unsuccessful hero of the story. He tries to save Moss’s life.
Considering the way the novel is written, readers might find themselves rooting for Moss. He is the “little guy” in the company of some very “big” criminals. Moss is also young and thinks he can outsmart the big guys. Through the use of his intelligence and a bit of good luck, Moss keeps slipping away. However, he realizes that there is no turning back. He has entered an underground world from which there is only one exit—his death.
Sheriff Bell, meanwhile, has committed himself to protecting the people who live within his jurisdiction. He knows that Moss is in over his head. Bell, along the way, realizes that he too is in over his head. He tries to get Moss to turn himself in. But Moss is slippery, and Bell cannot quite get to him in time.
Chigurh is at least as intelligent as Moss and Bell and a thousand times more evil. Chigurh is a coldhearted man, eager to kill anyone who tries to cross his path. A Washington Post reviewer hit the nail on the head when he called McCarthy’s book, a “profoundly disturbing and gorgeously rendered” novel.
Readers are provided a quick glimpse of Anton Chigurh, the psychopathic killer, at the opening of No Country for Old Men. He has recently been captured and is standing in a police station with a deputy, who is totally unaware of how vicious Chigurh is. Within minutes, the deputy is dead, and Chigurh has escaped in the deputy’s car. A few minutes later, Chigurh uses the police car to pull a random driver off the road. He kills the driver and drives off in the new car.
The story then switches to a Texas desert, where Moss is hunting antelope. In the process, Moss comes across several dead bodies and a carload of cocaine and a suitcase full of money. The next day, Moss (for some unexplained reason) returns to the scene. This time there are witnesses, and the race begins. Moss takes off across the desert and is chased.
Moss makes it back to his trailer and tells his wife, Carla Jean, she needs to pack up and get out as soon as she can. Then Moss takes off in another direction.
As Moss runs away, he realizes his life will never be the same. The sum of money (over $2 million) is too much. People will be looking for him. He plans each of his steps as if he is being constantly followed, always on the lookout and ready for a showdown. One night he discovers a homing device inside the suitcase with the money, which explains how the drug runners are tracking him. He discards it, but somehow the bad guys always show up.
The biggest showdown occurs at Eagle Pass. Chigurh shows up at the hotel where Moss is staying. Chigurh shoots the hotel clerk to keep him quiet and sneaks up to Moss’s room. But Moss is ready for him. They shoot one another but Moss gets away, only to run into another group of drug runners who are shooting one another in the street. Bullets are flying everywhere as Moss limps across a bridge, throws the suitcase in a bunch of weeds at the river’s edge, and goes into Mexico to find a...
(The entire section is 762 words.)
Chapter 1 Summary
Sheriff Bell reflects on his being responsible for sending a convicted murderer to the gas chamber. He recalls the young man saying he had no soul, that he would be in hell and did not care. Bell decides that he will not put his own soul on the line any longer.
Chigurh is standing in the corner of the prison office, his hands cuffed behind his back. He manages to pull his hands under his legs, then use the handcuffs to strangle the deputy. He steals the deputy’s keys, money, squad car, and stungun (a firing mechanism propelled by an air tank) and leaves. Running the siren, Chigurh stops a motorist, kills him, and steals his car.
Llewelyn Moss is out hunting when he runs across some trucks in a caldera, around which dead men are scattered. In one of the trucks he finds a large amount of heroin. In the other, he finds a man still alive, begging for water. Moss explains that he has no water and walks off, knowing that there is still a man out there who is responsible for the shootings. Moss takes the gun from one of the trucks. He follows a trail of blood and finds the last man, dead. Beside him is a leather document bag filled with 2.4 million dollars. Moss takes the money and heads back home, where his wife badgers him about where he has been. She does not believe that he is carrying a satchel filled with money. He hides the gun beneath the trailer and the money under the bed in the second bedroom.
Late that night, Moss takes a jar of water and drives back out to the trucks. He leaves his own truck on a ridge and walks down to find the man dead. Moss looks back at his truck and sees another truck parked beside it. He takes off running, with men chasing him. Going across the country, he manages to stay ahead of the chasers until he gets to a river. The men begin shooting and hit Moss in the arm. Moss crosses the river and escapes from the men. He thinks that he must get back to his wife and send her away. He thinks that he should probably call his brother in California to warn him that men might show up asking about him. He realizes that in the morning, someone might report the crime scene along with the license number of his truck. He starts walking to the town of Langtry, which is thirty miles away.
Chapter 2 Summary
Sheriff Bell reflects on whether law enforcement is getting more dangerous. He relates one incident in which he stopped to check on a pickup he found by the side of a road. As he pulled up, he saw someone hand a shotgun out to two boys in the back, who then opened fire on Bell. Bell still reads the newspapers every morning, but he sees increased violence all over. His wife will not read the papers anymore.
Bell answers a call from one of his officers, Torbert, about a body out on the highway. He and Officer Wendell investigate and find a man shot in the head lying in the trunk of the car. A receipt in his pocket identifies him as Bill Wyrick. Bell orders Torbert to fill out the report but omit the name because this is not verified yet. Bell then drives to Sonora to find the courthouse taped off as a crime scene. Officer Lamar gives him the details of a deputy who was shot; he regrets that he has to inform the deputy’s wife of his death. Lamar tells Bell that he does not believe this crime is anything they have seen before and contemplates resigning. Bell hopes he does not resign because he will need all the men he can get to deal with this crime.
Moss takes a bus back home, where his wife, Carla Jean, questions him. As she feeds him breakfast, Carla Jean notices the buckshot wound on his arm and his wounded leg. Moss refuses to give her a straight answer. Instead, he tells her to pack up her things and go to her mother’s house in Odessa. He warns her that anything she leaves behind she will not see again.
Chigurh stops at a filling station in Sheffield, Texas, to get gas. When the proprietor asks him if he has been getting any rain “up [his] way,” Chigurh becomes belligerent. The proprietor asks Chigurh if he wants anything else, and Chigurh acts as if this is an unreasonable request. The proprietor is now suspicious and fearful and tells Chigurh that he has to close. After an exchange indicating that Chigurh...
(The entire section is 504 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Sheriff Bell does not know that law enforcement has benefitted much from advances in technology. He prefers the old weapons and police cars to what he has now. He is not sure what to think about the death penalty either. It bothers him to have talked with a man for a long time and then walk him down to put him to death. Many of the prisoners are not very smart, he believes, as in the case of one man who ate his last meal but saved his dessert for his return. Many old-time sheriffs did not carry guns. Bell himself has never killed anyone, and he hopes he never does. He is amazed that there are no laws in Texas to regulate who becomes a sheriff, but the system seems to work.
Moss puts Carla Jean on a bus. She is worried;...
(The entire section is 523 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
On Tuesday, Bell and Wendell go to Moss’s trailer, but no one is home. Bell notices that the lock was blown out and hit the opposite wall. He speculates that whatever blew it out must have been powerful. On Wednesday, reporters come to interview Bell about the murders, but he will give no information. He and Tolbert go out to the caldera, where they meet a Drug Enforcement Agency agent named McIntyre. They examine the site, and Bell tells McIntyre that the bodies have been there for four or five days. They check the truck that held the heroin and discuss the fact that neither the drugs nor the money are anywhere, which means that one person is still missing. Because the people who were expecting the drug shipment have not...
(The entire section is 580 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Sheriff Bell drives up to Odessa to talk to Carla Jean Moss. He assures her that Moss is alive, but he needs to discuss some things with her. Carla Jean refuses to let him in out of fear that it will upset her mother, so they go down to a diner. As Bell tries to get some information out of her, Carla Jean is reluctant to betray Moss in any way. Bell tells her that her husband is in trouble with some very bad people. Carla Jean says that she has not heard from Moss but she is sure he has not changed, despite the money. Bell is not so sure.
Carla Jean explains that the woman whom she calls “mama” is really her grandmother. She tells Bell that she is nineteen years old. She graduated from high school at sixteen and...
(The entire section is 540 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Sheriff Bell believes that young people have a difficult time growing up because they are not expected to grow up. He cites as an example the statistics of children being reared by grandparents, and he wonders who will raise these children’s children because they will not have grandparents willing to rear them. Loretta has taken responsibility for feeding the prisoners, engendering a love that causes them to return even after their release.
Chigurh stops at a veterinarian supply store and buys medical supplies. He then goes to a drug store, sets his car on fire to cause a distraction, and takes some drugs for his wounded leg. He goes back to the motel and doctors his wound. He stays at the motel for five days....
(The entire section is 518 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
Sheriff Bell does not like to talk about the Vietnam War. He lost his squad but still received a medal. He does not like how the veterans deserted their people. He once read of a survey of teachers in the 1930s concerning the major discipline problems in school. The top problems were talking in class, running in the halls, and chewing gum. The major problems in today’s schools are rape, murder, drugs, and suicide. People laugh at Bell for his outrage and say it is a sign of old age. He went to a conference once and met a woman who hoped that someday her daughter would be free to have an abortion. Bell told her that, the way the country is going, her daughter will be able to have an abortion and have her mother put to sleep....
(The entire section is 486 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
Bell hopes that he will leave a good legacy behind him. There has not been an unsolved homicide in Terrell County for forty-one years, but now he has nine in one week. He believes that criminals do not even think about the law. He is alive because criminals do not have any respect for him and thus do not feel threatened. He is beginning to believe in Satan once more; he sees this as the only explanation for the increase in evil all over the country.
Moss and the girl stop for a meal. The girl is curious about Moss’s background, but he will not give any information. He thinks she wants to be a bad girl, and he warns her that trouble can come into her life at any time. He jokes that he could be meaning to dump her body...
(The entire section is 433 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Bell never sees Carla Jean again. He feels bad that the newspaper linked Moss with the girl, who turned out to be a fifteen-year-old runaway. He receives news from Odessa that he cannot believe. His father always told him to tell the truth. He may have strayed from this as a young man, but he has come back to following his father’s philosophy.
Chigurh returns the money to the dealer to whom it belonged. He wants to connect with the dealer in a professional way because the dealer evidently picked the wrong people.
Carla Jean’s mother dies in March. At her funeral, Carla Jean is surprised that her mother had so many friends. She returns home to find Chigurh sitting in her bedroom. She is not surprised. She...
(The entire section is 483 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
Ellis had asked Bell what brought up his guilt over deserting his men. Bell replies that it was always there. He wonders why God never came into Ellis’s life. He thinks that He does come into the lives of those who need it most. He thinks of his uncle Harold, who never came home from the war. Bell has his medal, but Uncle Harold got nothing. Bell goes out to the caldera one more time. All he finds are some shell casings. He talks to his daughter, who would be thirty years old if she had not died. He thinks people would think he is crazy, but he usually does what he imagines his daughter would tell him to do.
Bell receives a call from a detective in Odessa, who says that the gun used to kill Carla Jean Moss was found...
(The entire section is 415 words.)
Chapters 11-13 Summary
Sheriff Bell tracks down Llewellyn Moss’s father and goes to visit with him. Mr. Moss tells him that Moss had been a sniper in the war and was in no way involved with drugs. Bell assures him that he also believes this. Mr. Moss reflects that the Vietnam War did not bring America to its knees. America was failing even before the war started. The soldiers had nothing backing them up when they went overseas. They did not have a country worth fighting for.
On his way back home, Bell reflects on the truth of what Mr. Moss said. Older people no longer recognized the culture of their country. It was foreign to them, much as it was to Bell himself. He learns that a Mexican is being imprisoned for burning the car that Bell had...
(The entire section is 472 words.)