A Book Spy Review: ‘Hell and Back’ by Craig Johnson


Walt Longmore is back, but you’ve never seen him quite like this.

Craig Johnson opens the 18th book in his bestselling series with Absaroka County Sherif Walt Longmire waking up in the middle of a frozen street, unable to remember who he is or where he’s it. Quickly, it’s revealed that Walt is in Fort Pratt, Montana, a town made famous from tragedy after thirty young Native boys died in a boarding school fire more than a hundred and twenty-five years ago. Stranger yet is Walt’s inability to remember why he’s covered in blood, or why he’s missing a single bullet from his gun. A friendly waitress at a nearby cafe helps him with a few details, mainly his name, but the story takes a mystical turn when Walt believes to have been transported back to 1986.

Meanwhile, in Absaroka, the two people closest to Walt, Victoria Moretti and Henry Standing Bear, go searching for the missing sheriff. But they, like readers, will first have to figure out if Walt really has somehow been transported back to the past . . . or if he’s having a psychotic breakdown.

Craig Johson deserves plenty of credit for taking such a bold approach here. What makes this story work, ultimately, is the fearless plotting that—as things begin to unfold—shakes out to be a real treat for longtime fans of the series. It’s those readers, primarily, who will devour Hell and Back, which features a number of characters that new readers won’t recognize or fully appreciate. That said, newcomers might not realize just how different the tone of this book is from past entries, whereas Johnson’s faithful may be caught slightly off guard by how far this story deviates from the investigative procedurals he’s typically turned in. That isn’t a knock on the book at all, and again, kudos to Johnson for shaking it up a bit, just be careful not to expect the same old story here—and once you know what, Johnson’s talent is on full display and impossible to miss.

Without giving anything away, the resurgence in popularity of the modern-day western, thanks in part to television shows like Yellowstone, has led to the market being saturated with authors trying their hand at plotting around the wild west to take advantage of the market. Johnson, along with C.J. Box, still remains the gold standard, and in this book, he flashes so much of why readers love this setting and the cowboy way, hitting on themes like justice and outlaws while mixing in a healthy dose of character development. The focus on Walt’s mental health, for example, proves that even as he nears twenty books, Johnson has plenty of tricks to keep his series fresh and evolving. The only real question is, what will he do next?

Daring, fast-paced, and overflowing with twists and misdirection, Craig Johnson’s Hell and Back is unlike anything his readers have seen from him before.


Book Details

Author: Craig Johnson
Series: Longmore #18
Pages: 352 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 10593297288
Publisher: Viking
Release Date: September 6, 2022
Real Book Spy Rating: 8.5/10



Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and co-hosts the ThrillerTalk podcast when he’s not streaming and hanging out with his growing community on Twitch. His debut thriller, FIELDS OF FIRE, which #1 New York Times bestselling author Jack Carr says “will leave you speechless and begging for more,” comes out on September 6, 2022. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


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