person walking down a highway in the desert under blue sky with power lines and a structure in the distance

No Country for Old Men

by Cormac McCarthy

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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.

Extended Summary

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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...

(This entire section contains 762 words.)

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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 doctor.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Bell is investigating the murders of the deputy, the random man on the road next to the stolen police car, and the men in the desert. He senses that the murders are connected. Eventually he ties Moss to this mess, but Bell believes that has become a part of it by accident. Bell tracks down Carla Jean and pleads with her to have Moss give himself up. Carla Jean does not trust Bell and tells him so.

When Moss wakes up in a hospital in Mexico, he sees a stranger sitting in a chair at the foot of the bed. The man is Carson Wells. He is a hit man, working this time for an unidentified businessman who was backing the drug deal. Wells has come for the money. He promises that if Moss returns the money, he will be safe. But Moss does not trust him. Wells leaves and tells Moss to call him if he changes his mind.

Chigurh hunts Wells down and kills him. When Moss calls Wells’s phone, Chigurh answers. Chigurh tells Moss that if he brings the money in he will spare Carla Jean’s life. Instead Moss challenges Chigurh, telling him, in essence, that he is going to kill him.

Moss leaves the hospital, though he is not in very good physical shape. He buys a pickup and starts traveling toward El Paso, where he is planning to meet Carla Jean. On the way, Moss picks up a young girl who is hitchhiking. She drives so Moss can sleep.

Sheriff Bell is on his way to El Paso too. Carla Jean has tipped the sheriff off. She now believes that Bell is the only one who can save Moss.

Moss and the hitchhiker stop at a motel to sleep. His wounds and the girl distract moss. He’s not taking the precautions that he usually takes. The next scene is about Sheriff Bell getting there too late to prevent the murders.

Bell senses that Chigurh is somewhere in the vicinity. Bell can feel his presence. But he does not see him sitting in his car, watching the police activity. Then shortly afterward, Chigurh is sitting in Carla Jean’s house, waiting for her. Carla Jean is returning from her mother’s funeral. Chigurh kills her.

The story ends with Bell completely disillusioned by the criminals. He resigns his position as sheriff.


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