Today I finished the third volume of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, Cities of the Plain (1998). John Grady Cole, the protagonist of the first volume, All the Pretty Horses, and Billy Parham, the protagonist of the second volume, The Crossing, are brought together as cowhands on a ranch threatened by drought and possession by the military. The atmosphere (the Old West, threatened by the new) and the landscape (the Mexican frontier) are by now familiar. In-between the horse/ranch action, the ‘boys’ visit the brothels of Ciudad Juárez and John Grady Cole, who has a sort of fascination with the afflicted, falls madly, and fatally, in love with a young prostitute, Magdelena, who is also the object of the jealous passions of her pimp, an expertly knife-wielding Eduardo. The latter has Magdelena murdered as she tries to cross into the States and the two suitors subsequently kill one another, leaving the surviving Billy to hobo on into meditative old age. For me, this was the least satisfactory of the three volumes. There are some wonderful descriptions – of a wild dog hunt, for example – but the passages are disjointed and the text is not as highly polished as usual. For example, a cooling stove ticks and a few pages later another cooling stove creaks; water is frequently beading on surfaces (glasses, windows); and lightning flickers just a little too frequently over Mexico’s distant mountains. At the very end of the book, and thus of the trilogy, Billy shelters under a bridge with another tramp, a philosophising dreamer. His observations are profound, but if this was intended as the author’s closing soliloquy I searched in vain for the binding thread. Still, the trilogy is a magnificent achievement and a fantastic read. McCarthy’s literary and geographical territory is as much his own as Graham Greene’s Greeneland.