The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott

County of Offenses

Presidio/Brewster-ish (Fictional)

Character Charges

Murder. Drug trafficking. More murder. Possession of a controlled substance. Spousal abuse. Assault. Rape. Conspiracy to commit murder. Did we mention murder?


First Offense 

Known Gang Affiliations

G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Date of Offense

June 2016

Arresting Officer

William Dylan Powell 

Set in a fictional version of Marfa called “Murfee,” The Far Empty lights a number of lives ablaze when a skeleton is discovered in the desert outside of town. And the thing about Far West Texas: There’s always plenty of room for more bones.

Everybody in Murfee loves its charismatic Sheriff, Standford “Judge” Ross. A character capturing the essence of a down-home old school West Texas tough guy, he’s also a larger-than-life Sheriff who emanates a kind of Old West ethos that could only come from a lawman in that part of the world. Sheriff Ross is an aging widower and good old boy who gets respect from men, adoration from women and an unmatched recognition from his professional peers.

The only problem? His son, Caleb, suspects that Sheriff Ross killed Caleb’s mother—the Sheriff ’s second wife.

When a skeleton is unearthed nearby, high school student Caleb Ross suspects it’s his mom, who’s been missing for over a year now. Sheriff Ross claims that she just up and left them. But Caleb is coming to terms with the nature of his father, whose violence and volatility in their home life had become a daily torture for them all. And Caleb sets out on a rocky and treacherous road to bring his mother’s killer—his own father, he suspects—to justice.

Also thrown into the mix are a Sheriff’s Deputy who’s recently returned home to Murfee after a failed football career, a substitute school teacher picking up the pieces of her life, another Deputy who’s totally hooked on that foco, lots of narcotraficante action and Caleb’s intelligent-but-troubled girlfriend. Then, of course, there’s the book’s most compelling character of all: the hard ground and huge skies of West Texas, and all of the blood and folklore contained therein.

With The Far Empty, Scott brings the reader a fast-paced, easy-to-read, tension-filled post-modern Western. As the story unfolds, one-by-one the book’s characters are gradually thrown into a collision course with Sheriff Ross and his machinations—struggling to understand the man’s understated menace, calculating ruthlessness and seemingly preternatural power.

This is J. Todd Scott’s debut novel, but you’d never know it. A former DEA agent for more than twenty years, he comes at his work with a foundation of subject matter expertise. But don’t think that means he can’t write. From his allusion to Cormac McCarthy’s Judge in Blood Meridian to the claustrophobic tension he creates in Deputy Chris Cherry’s marriage, Scott proves himself a capable craftsmen well up to the task of telling big stories of West Texas crime. I’m in the middle of his second book, High White Sun (watch for the La Kiva reference, by the way), which I’m really enjoying, and rumor has it he has many more to come.

I was destined to love this book. West Texas is one of my favorite places on the planet. I went to high school at Abilene Wylie, graduated from Texas Tech, spent years running around out there in the dust and still try to make it out to Terlingua regularly to drink cold Terlingua Gold under those boundless electric stars. I’ve read No Country for Old Men so many times it’s embarrassing, and watch Hell or High Water every damn time it’s on. So if Scott had written even a mediocre novel trying to accomplish the same thing, I’d have likely still enjoyed it. As it turns out, however, he wrote a great novel--and I’m super excited to count him as one of my favorite new writers of the contemporary Western.

If there’s one thing I love more than finding a good book I didn’t see coming, it’s finding a new writer whose work you can be consistently excited about. As a reader, there are authors I read as experiments and then authors whose books I just automatically buy and add to my “to be read” pile. Scott joins my “full auto” list without reservation, and I look forward to seeing what he’s got locked and loaded for the next few books. Big thanks to John at Murder by the Book for recommending this title.


Verdict: Guilty of creating a tense, gritty contemporary Western that pays homage to the lawlessness of Far West Texas.


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