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No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men Summary


Here you will find a No Country for Old Men summary (Cormac McCarthy's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

No Country for Old Men Summary Overview

The narrative begins by introducing us to Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, who reflects on the wickedness he perceives in the changing world after having encountered a ruthless murderer. Simultaneously, we're introduced to Llewellyn Moss, a Vietnam veteran hunting in the desolate landscapes of Southwest Texas. Moss inadvertently stumbles upon a drug deal gone awry and impulsively decides to pocket a suitcase containing over $2 million. Upon returning to the scene to aid a surviving victim, he finds the man dead and quickly becomes a target of the drug cartel, forcing him into hiding and moving his wife, Carla Jean, to her mother's house in Odessa. The narrative then shifts to an unnamed man, Anton Chigurh, a sadistic hitman with a signature bolt weapon who flips coins to decide his victims' fate. Having learned of the botched drug deal, Chigurh ruthlessly kills two men and sets out on a mission to find Moss. Meanwhile, Sheriff Bell, being aware of Moss's situation, takes it upon himself to ensure their safety. Despite Moss's attempts to evade Chigurh using a transponder hidden in the money case, he gets injured in a shootout and narrowly escapes to Mexico, where he meets another hitman, Carson Wells. Wells proposes to help Moss in exchange for the money, but Moss declines his offer. In the aftermath of the shootout, Chigurh, who has also sustained injuries, finds the transponder but not the money in Moss's hotel room. He then ambushes and kills Wells. Moss, having reconsidered Wells's offer, calls him but ends up talking to Chigurh who demands the money in exchange for sparing Carla Jean. Refusing to relent, Moss vows to hunt down Chigurh. Meanwhile, Chigurh begins tracking Carla Jean while Moss is killed by two other hitmen. Chigurh manages to retrieve the money and returns it to an undisclosed businessman. Upon returning home, Carla Jean is confronted and killed by Chigurh, who insists on fulfilling his promise to Moss. A guilt-ridden Sheriff Bell, who had previously abandoned his squad during World War II, decides to retire after being unable to identify Chigurh or stop the cycle of violence and death.

chapter 1

The story begins with an unnamed narrator reflecting on sentencing a cold, young killer to death. The narrator dreads the day he encounters a truly destructive criminal. He's prepared to die, but he won't risk his soul. Transitioning to the past, a man named Chigurh is held at a sheriff's office, handcuffed. The deputy, distracted by a phone call, fails to notice Chigurh slip his hands to the front, stand up, and strangle him to death. Chigurh frees himself, takes the deputy's firearm, and drives away in the police car. On the road, he stops a vehicle, forces the man out, and shoots him in the forehead with a device resembling a cattle stun gun. The narrative moves to a desert, where a man named Moss is hunting antelope. He misses, the herd flees. A wounded dog passes by. He spots three bullet-riddled trucks and bodies in the distance. As he investigates, one man barely clings to life, asking for water, which Moss doesn't have. Discovering brown powder and a trail of blood, Moss follows it to a corpse holding a suitcase full of cash. Understanding the potential of his find, Moss takes the money and returns home. His wife, Carla Jean, is skeptical and curious about his new firearm, but decides she'd rather not know. Moss awakens late at night and verifies that the suitcase contains $2.4 million. Despite Carla Jean's objections, he returns to the crime scene with water, only to find the man from before has been murdered. He is spotted and chased by other men. Escaping into a river and through a cane field, he loses them. Aware that they could track him through his truck's registration number, he heads east to a town 30 miles away.

chapter 2

Bell recalls the perilous encounters he's had in the line of duty. Once, he had a gun pulled on him and was shot at from a moving vehicle. Following the latter incident, he was wrongly accused of boasting about his damaged patrol car in a local café. He's fully aware of the world's violence, reading about it in the newspaper each day. Shifting back to a past event, Bell is called to a crime scene by Deputy Torbert. Alongside another officer, Wendell, they discover a dead man with a bullet wound in his head stored in the trunk of an abandoned police car. Bell instructs Torbert to transport the body to Austin and then return to Sonora for pick up. He orders the report to be filed as if it was a routine case. Afterward, Bell visits Sheriff Lamar's office in Sonora, where he learns that the dead deputy was merely 23 years old, married, and apparently killed by a madman. Both sheriffs agree they're facing an unprecedented situation. Moss returns home using public transportation. His wife, Carla Jean, questions him about his injuries and the truck, but he remains silent. He only tells her to stay at her mother's place in Odessa until he calls. Chigurh, while on the road, makes a stop at a gas station. His presence frightens the owner as he lingers around the counter after making payment. He engages the man in a conversation about a coin toss, flips a quarter, and demands the man to call it. The owner is hesitant, unaware of the implications, but Chigurh assures him that guessing right means winning. The owner calls heads, which is the correct call. Chigurh gives him the quarter as his lucky coin, cryptically suggesting that even a piece of currency can serve a purpose. Later, Chigurh meets up with two men on a rural road. They head to Moss's truck, where Chigurh retrieves the inspection plate. Upon learning that the men know little about the situation, he kills them both and drives off.

chapter 3

Bell muses about his job in law enforcement, expressing doubt about the effectiveness of new technology and the fairness of the justice system. He contemplates the vast power of his sheriff position, its lack of prerequisites, and its limited effect on criminals. Moss and Carla Jean reach Fort Stockton, parting on tense terms. Moss can't guarantee he won't cause harm. Bell's meal is interrupted by a distress call about a burning car. He brings his wife, Loretta, to the site. The following morning, he and Wendell return on horseback. They identify Moss's truck and come across a deadly scene involving Chigurh. Bell theorizes about what may have happened, figuring that the surviving individual absconded with the cash. They find another deceased individual, leading Bell to believe they were not the first to arrive at the scene. His focus sharpens on finding Moss. Bell later receives an update from Torbert, regarding the previously found body. Details about the death are scarce, but the body count tallies to nine. Bell notes that modern-day drug dealers are worse than historical cattle thieves. Chigurh breaks into Moss's trailer, lifting some mail before trying, unsuccessfully, to extract information about Moss's whereabouts from a trailer park employee. He uses Moss's mail to get a number in Odessa and tries to reach Moss. Failing that, Chigurh heads towards Moss's workplace. In Del Rio, Moss secures a cheap motel room and stashes the money in an air vent. He crosses into Mexico for supplies and a meal before returning. Noticing a disturbance at his room, he opts for another motel. The next day, he plots his next move, considering the prospect of having to kill pursuers. He prepares by purchasing a shotgun and other items. After altering his newly acquired weapon, he watches the sunset, ready for what comes next.

chapter 4

Bell recalls his early days as a sheriff at twenty-five and expresses gratitude for his supportive wife, Loretta. After serving two terms and a temporary move, he voiced a desire to re-run for sheriff, to which Loretta agreed. Together, they mourn the loss of their daughter. When Bell and Wendell inspect Moss's trailer, they discover a damaged lock and grasp that Moss and his wife have fled. Bell suspects Moss is aware of the dangerous people trailing him. The brutal killings are soon publicized and authorities swarm in to probe. At the initial motel, Moss, in a room adjacent to his first, retrieves the bag from the ventilation shaft using a makeshift pole. After pocketing some cash, he places the bag and pole back in the duct. Chigurh, tracking the transponder signal, stumbles upon the motel rooms. He violently intrudes into a room, killing the two Mexicans inside. He then investigates the bag, noticing the dust marks indicating its movement. After wiping off the blood from his clothes, he exits. In his office, Bell discerns from a report that Chigurh's weapon of choice is an air gun similar to those used for cattle. Moss checks into a hotel in Eagle Pass and discovers the transponder hidden in the money. He prepares for danger, offering the hotel clerk money to alert him if anyone arrives. Later, awoken by a noise, he spots a man entering his room. With his shotgun at the ready, Moss, not receiving an answer to his questions, forces the man down the hallway and escapes. In the ensuing gunfire exchange with Chigurh from the hotel balcony and other men from a car, Moss is injured. He manages to cross the bridge into Mexico, concealing his wounds with a purchased coat and tossing the bag amongst the river cane plants. Once in Mexico, he bribes a local man to find a doctor. Chigurh, injured in the leg, finishes the gunfight by killing the last man standing before returning to his car.

chapter 5

Bell dwells on past family stories, highlighting the integral role of a sheriff in the community. He visits Carla Jean in Odessa to discuss Moss's whereabouts and the danger from those seeking the money. Despite Bell's warning about the dangerous people hunting Moss, Carla Jean stands firm, believing Moss can protect himself. She shares a dream about meeting her future husband at work and refuses to divulge any information on Moss's location, fearing it would be akin to betrayal. Bell is alerted about the Eagle Pass shootout. With a local sheriff, he inspects the crime scene at the hotel. The sheriff surmises the night clerk was caught in the crossfire, but Bell suspects otherwise. He shares his thoughts with Loretta at home. The scene shifts to a Houston office, where Wells is contracted to locate Chigurh. The man hiring him provides details about the Eagle Pass incident, mentioning that while those in the car were Mexican drug dealer's men, those who led Chigurh to the failed drug deal were his men. Wells queries about the man's intricate elevator security before departing. At the Hotel Eagle, Wells questions a somewhat ignorant clerk about the shooting. He notices police tape across two rooms. Breaking into them later, he discovers blood-stained linen in one of the bathrooms. Wells surprises Moss in his Mexican hospital room, warning him of Chigurh's relentless pursuit, possibly endangering Carla Jean. Wells offers his assistance to handle Chigurh and allows Moss to keep some of the money. However, Moss remains confident in his ability to deal with Chigurh himself.

chapter 6

Bell reflects on the past, noting the responsibilities and challenges taken on by the youth, including war, marriage, and work. He also considers the increasing number of children raised by their grandparents, and acknowledges his dependence on his wife to fulfill his duties. The focus shifts to Chigurh, who is nursing a heavily injured leg. He raids a vet clinic for first aid supplies and causes a car explosion to distract attention from his theft of medication from a drugstore. He then settles in a motel to heal, staying hidden until he notices law enforcement in the motel café. Wells tracks Moss's blood to a bridge, attempting to locate the hidden money. Bell, back at his workplace, discovers that all the involved American vehicles were owned by deceased individuals. He plans to return to Eagle Pass. As he leaves, he observes a truck carrying the deceased from the crime scene. Chigurh, on the road, is led by the transponder back to Hotel Eagle. He is sure of Moss's death and wonders why the transponder is still in the hotel. When the clerk refuses to show him the registration, he uses a key to access Moss's room and finds the transponder. He confronts Wells in the lobby and coerces him to his room at gunpoint. Wells unsuccessfully attempts to negotiate his life for money. Chigurh recounts past experiences, including killing a stranger and allowing himself to be arrested, to explain his changed nature. Wells finally accepts he cannot negotiate with Chigurh and asks to be killed quickly. Chigurh kills him and is searching Wells' car when the phone rings. In the hospital, Moss speaks to Carla Jean, who recounts Bell's visit. He instructs her to go to a motel, but she longs for normalcy. Despite Moss's reassurances, she remains skeptical. Moss then reaches out to Wells for help, but Chigurh answers instead. Chigurh informs Moss that the only way to protect "her" is to bring the money, adding that Moss cannot save himself. Moss reacts defiantly, vowing to hunt Chigurh. He leaves the hospital and crosses the bridge, where he is interrogated by a border guard before entering the U.S. Once in Eagle Pass, Moss purchases new clothes. Bell finds out from another officer that Hotel Eagle is closed and that the clerk has been murdered. He is surprised that the murderer returned, and they discover the transponder and Wells' corpse at the crime scene.

chapter 7

Bell refuses to discuss his war experiences where he lost his crew. He uses a teacher's questionnaire to show societal changes. Previously, teachers complained about unruly children, but now they report serious crimes like rape and murder. Chigurh breaches the office of the man who employed Wells. Observing the man's shadow, he deduces he is armed. However, Chigurh shots him in the throat before he can react. He then introduces himself to the dying man. Carla Jean and her mother depart for the bus station, bound for El Paso. Her mother gripes, claiming Carla Jean never dreamed about Moss. Chigurh invades the vacated residence of Carla Jean's mother. He rummages through their possessions, pilfering two photographs of Carla Jean. He stays overnight, takes a shower, and peruses their mail and a phone bill. He finds more correspondence to look over in a desk drawer. Moss hails a cab to grab the briefcase, cautiously avoiding the sentries. Next, he travels to San Antonio, where he purchases a firearm, a pickup truck, and evaluates his injuries. Moss picks up a young hitchhiker as he joins the highway, allowing her to drive while he tries to sleep. His agony, however, prevents him from sleeping. When questioned by the girl about evading law enforcement, he doesn't refute it. Bell responds to Carla Jean's call. She asks for his assurance that if she reveals the caller's location, he wouldn't harm him. Inside a trailer, two men eavesdrop via a headset and make some notes. They then proceed to a Plymouth Barracuda, equipped with a submachine gun.

chapter 8

Bell contemplates the unresolved murders in his county, attributing the lawlessness of drug dealers to an evil force like Satan. Moss and a young hitchhiker share a meal at a diner, where he vaguely alludes to his troubles and gifts her $1,000 for her travel to California. He tells her that running away won't solve her problems. Securing two rooms at a Van Horn hotel, Moss and the girl share a casual evening. He reveals his marital status and his escape plans from the people he robbed. He guides her to take a bus to California from El Paso, refusing her implicit sexual advance. At a car wash, the driver of the Barracuda washes off blood from the window and drives away. Bell, on the same route, spots a burning car and arrives at the Van Horn motel, where a deadly shootout has occurred. He identifies the deceased Moss, disfigured by gunshot wounds, but fails to recognize the accompanying woman. Chigurh visits the deserted motel and recovers the money stashed in an air duct. As he prepares to leave, he spots Bell arriving and makes a hasty exit. Encountering the damaged lock and open duct, Bell deduces Chigurh's visit. The following day, Bell informs Carla Jean of Moss's death. Overwhelmed by grief, she threatens Bell for his sympathy.

chapter 9

Bell reminisces about never encountering “her” after a certain point. He also recollects striving to clear “his” fingerprints from the FBI's records, leading him to believe that “he” was a phantom. His father's teaching of always being truthful, even in fault, is something he maintained throughout his life. Chigurh successfully returns the cash to a businessman who questions how he located him. Chigurh doesn't answer but expresses his wish for the gentlemen to engage in business with him. When the businessman concurs, Chigurh states their future dealings would be with new individuals capable of managing substantial money. After her mother's funeral, Carla Jean comes home to find Chigurh waiting for her. She informs him that she doesn't possess the money, thus he shouldn't harm her. However, Chigurh is determined to fulfill his promise to Moss. An inconsolable Carla Jean begs for mercy, but Chigurh is unyielding. He presents a coin for her to toss, but she fails. Chigurh implies that her life choices have brought her to this point. Despite her protests, Chigurh maintains his lifestyle of killing, ending her life. Afterward, a vehicle collides with Chigurh’s truck, resulting in his injury. He exits his truck with a fractured arm, which two boys witness. He bribes them with money to forget his face and for a shirt to treat his wound. He then limps away, leaving the boys to discover his gun. Bell pays a visit to his solitary uncle, Ellis, who is aware of his nephew's impending retirement. They recall deceased family members, Harold and Mac, who met untimely deaths. Ellis admits that despite the harshness of the country, people adored it. Bell confides in Ellis about his guilt of abandoning his squad during World War II, an act he believes he stole his life from. Even though he received a Bronze Star, he wishes he had shown the courage his father, a better man, would have.

chapter 10

Bell grapples with his decision regarding an innocent Mexican man jailed for a state trooper's murder. His recent experiences have left a lasting impression, stirring up memories from his war days, which he attempted to suppress but kept him alert. He plans to resign to avoid a confrontation with Chigurh. This decision reflects a similar one he made during World War II. Bell recalls reading his cousin Harold's letters saved by his aunt. The letters conveyed a different post-war world, which his aunt couldn't comprehend, much like his current unawareness of the evolving world. Bell meditates on the country's grim history, engaging in a conversation with his departed daughter, whose wise words resonate with him. The tale turns back in time when Bell discovers that Odessa police found the weapon used to murder Carla Jean. The firearm was in possession of a teenager, David DeMarco, who snatched it from a crashed truck. Meeting DeMarco at a café, Bell learns little about the driver, as the teenager remains mostly silent. Despite DeMarco's insistence on being alone, Bell locates his companion who reveals that they were instructed to stay silent by the intimidating driver.

chapter 11

Bell remembers telling Moss's father about his son's return from Vietnam, coming back a sniper to a country that disappointed its soldiers. Driving back, Bell contemplates on his decision to join law enforcement, with his aim to protect people. He is troubled about what lies ahead and feels incapable of addressing wrongs. When he reveals his resignation decision to Loretta, she initially doubts him. Bell reflects on his encounter with a Mexican man convicted of killing a trooper, to whom he expressed his belief of the man's innocence. But the man, laughing, confessed to shooting the officer between the eyes. As Bell was leaving, he crossed paths with the county prosecutor, who enquired about his opinion on who killed the trooper. Bell replied a ghost, still at large. This led the prosecutor to think that Bell shouldn't worry, but it has been on Bell's mind. He feels he encountered someone superior to him. At his house, he catches up with Loretta on horseback to discuss his retirement and their future together.

chapter 12

Bell senses the direction society is moving in. He's aware that unscrupulous individuals are exploiting others and their weaknesses, probably instigated by drug pushers. Responding to a journalist's query about crime in his jurisdiction, Bell stated that it sprouted from poor etiquette and eventually permeated all facets of the community. He also perceives this in the elderly, who appear increasingly unhinged. He queried Loretta on the Bible's viewpoint on the state of the world. Exiting the courthouse office for the final time, Bell experiences an unidentified emotion, a mix of melancholy and a sense of defeat. This sensation is more acrid than death, yet Bell pushes himself to move past it.

chapter 13

Bell recalls a wartime farmhouse and its stone trough, likely to stand for centuries. The maker's faith impresses him and he yearns to emulate it. He shares that his accomplishments surpass those of his father, a horse trader, possibly making him the superior man. After his father's passing, he had two dreams. The first was unclear, revolving around lost money bestowed by his father. The second dream was vivid, both of them on horseback in an older era. The setting was dark and chilly, yet his father rode ahead, bearing fire, without uttering a word. Bell realized his father was preparing a fire for him. He would be waiting. Then, Bell awoke.

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