It's 1980 on the Tex-Mex border. A Vietnam War vet finds a sack of drug money in the desert. An arrested man violently kills a deputy and escapes. And an old sheriff sits around talking about how gosh-dern old he is.
Welcome to No Country for Old Men. Unless you're an old man. If so, exit's over there. Silver foxes possibly allowed.
Our Vietnam War vet is Llewelyn Moss. He's out hunting antelope in the desert, but something else catches his eye: human corpses and abandoned vehicles. It seems a drug deal went wrong, and everyone died, leaving behind the drugs and the money—$2.4 million to be exact. That would buy a lot of shoulder pads. (Hey, it's the 80s.) Llewelyn takes the money and finds one wounded drug runner still alive. The man asks for agua, but Llewelyn has no water to give.
Llewelyn takes the money home to his wife, Carla Jean, but he returns to the scene of the crime later that night with a jug of water. How compassionate.
Compassion turns out to be a mistake. Drug runners have finished off the thirsty man, and they're still lurking in the area. They shoot at Llewelyn, who abandons his truck and runs. He realizes that these guys will be able to identify him from his vehicle, so he tells his wife to stay with her mother, and he too makes a run for it. If someone stole $2.4 million of your dollars, would you ever stop chasing him? Didn't think so.
Meanwhile, a criminal named Anton Chigurh is arrested. He chokes the deputy to death with his own handcuff chain and escapes. Chigurh works for one set of drug runners. Sort of. He's kind of a one-man army, and this human Terminator is determined to hasta la vista Llewelyn and get the money back at any cost.
Chigurh tracks and pursues Llewelyn through a handful of no-tell motels, and a few shootouts occur in the process. In one violent altercation, both Chigurh and Llewelyn are wounded. Llewelyn limps across the border to a hospital in Mexico—hiding the money in a riverbank along the way—and Chigurh retreats to a motel to bandage himself and recover.
While Llewelyn is in Mexico, he is visited by a man named Wells. Wells has been hired to retrieve the money, too, but he isn't a maniac like Chigurh. He's willing to let Llewelyn live. Actually, he's willing to do basically anything to keep from having to face Chigurh. But face Chigurh he does, and he's killed. No one lasts long against Chigurh.
Llewelyn retrieves the money and calls Wells, but it's Chigurh who answers the phone. Uh-oh. Chigurh tells Llewelyn that he will kill Carla Jean if he doesn't give him the money.
After getting out of the hospital, Llewelyn still attempts to evade Chigurh, picking up a young female hitchhiker on the road in the process. When Llewelyn and the girl stop at a motel, they are killed in a shootout—not even by Chigurh. That's right: random unnamed drug runners kill our main character. And they don't even get the money.
Chigurh sweeps in after the slaughter and finds the money in the air duct in Llewelyn's room.
So, we're done?
No, the book's only two-thirds over.
Our main character is dead, but Chigurh's business isn't. Remember how he said that if Llewelyn didn't give him the money, he'd kill his wife? Well, he meant it literally. And since Llewelyn didn't hand him the money, Chigurh goes and kills Carla Jean. Dang, he's ruthless.
After murdering Carla Jean, Chigurh is in a car accident. He flees the scene and is never seen again.
Yep, you read that right. He gets away.
Wasn't there someone else we mentioned? Oh, that's right: old Sheriff Bell. Bell never once interacts with Llewelyn or Chigurh, and we read chapter after chapter of him ruminating to himself about how useless he feels because he can't stop all the horrible evil that's happening around him.
And, sadly, he's right. He is pretty useless. We can't argue that. He fails to save the day, or anyone. But at least he lives, and that's something, right?
The book ends with Bell lamenting the unstoppable evil sweeping the country—and realizing that there's nothing he or anyone else can do to stop it.
So there you have No Country for Old Men. The feel-bad book of the year.