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The Far Empty


The Far Empty

It might be my imagination, but it seems that 2016 is full to the brim with books from debut authors whose talents have manifested themselves as fully formed, like a literary Athena. Let’s add J. Todd Scott to that list. His debut novel, THE FAR EMPTY, is dark and violent, as fine a piece of border noir as you might ever hope to read, but it is also a study of emotions, sacrifice, heroism and an almost-but-not quite redemption. It’s a tale that you will stay up all night to read and finish, only to find that you can’t shake it loose from your head. Not that you’ll want to.

Scott has been with the DEA for over two decades. He has spent much of that time in service on the southwestern Texas border, where THE FAR EMPTY is set. The border town of Murfee may be fictitious, but it is based on the very real town of Alpine. The settings as well as the characters leap off the page. Ah, yes, the characters. Scott uses Murfee and its surrounding environs as a large playing board where he sets up a number of personalities who brush up against each other uneasily in an economically depressed area that appears (deceptively) to be of little consequence.

"...a tale that you will stay up all night to read and finish, only to find that you can’t shake it loose from your head.... THE FAR EMPTY is a dark, memorable treasure."

The ruler of the roost is the sheriff, Standford “Judge” Ross, who runs the town with an iron-gloved fist in a canny sense of public relations. Ross’ new deputy is a hometown hero named Chris Cherry, whose high school football exploits are the stuff of legend. Chris’ college gridiron career was cut short by an injury; as a result, he has returned to his hometown with his girlfriend, Melissa, who is totally adrift in this dusty Texas town that is not only seemingly isolated but also feeds upon itself. It is Caleb Ross, though, who is the nexus of the book. While he is the son of the sheriff, Caleb possesses none of the glad-handing, hail-fellow-well-met talents of his father, whom he despises. Caleb believes that his mother, who abruptly vanished a year prior to the book’s events, was murdered by his father. When a decomposed body is found on the outskirts of a local ranch, he is certain that his mother’s remains have been uncovered.

Chris begins to investigate, a normal act that sets off a quiet but increasingly dangerous chain reaction, helped along when Melissa makes the mistake of revealing a facet of another of Chris’ investigations to Duane, one of Chris’ fellow deputies. It is Duane who sets THE FAR EMPTY on fire. One of the most complex characters you are likely to encounter in a book this summer, Duane is a drug-addled maelstrom of poor judgment and unbridled impulses, whose occasional stabs at redemption, while noble, never quite balance the books. As the novel races to its tumultuous conclusion, all of these characters and others will explosively collide, with few of them making it to the end.

J. Todd Scott is amazing. One gets the sense that the people and events he writes about were not conceived out of the whole cloth of his imagination but rather are the end result of thinly described historical events that otherwise would have been lost in the sand and the wind of border country. Only Scott knows for sure, but it is the reader who is the beneficiary of his desire to share. THE FAR EMPTY is a dark, memorable treasure.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 10, 2016

The Far Empty
by J. Todd Scott

  • Publication Date: February 27, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • ISBN-10: 0735218854
  • ISBN-13: 9780735218857