Hell and Back, by Craig Johnson

Hell and Back, by Craig Johnson

What if you woke up lying in the middle of the street in the infamous town of Fort Pratt, Montana, where thirty-one, young Native boys perished in a tragic boarding school fire in 1896? What if every person you encountered in that endless night was dead? What if you were covered in blood and missing a bullet from the gun holstered on your hip? What if there was something out there in the yellowed skies along with the deceased and the smell of ash and dust, something the Northern Cheyenne refer to as the Éveohtsé-heómese, the Wandering Without, the Stealer of Souls? What if the only way you know who you are is because it is printed in the sweatband of your cowboy hat, and what if it says your name is Walt Longmire – but you don’t remember him.

Remember when I said speculative genres were inclusive? Meaning that books with spirituality from another culture can often be considered fantasy. Or books with monsters, ghosts, and the afterlife edge into dark fantasy or horror. Or anything with time travel might edge into science fiction or fantasy. I’ll certainly read anything with all three of these conditions, like Hell and Back.

It might surprise you that I’ve read almost all of Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Longmire series. I also like CJ Box’s Game Warden Joe Pickett series. Guess I have a thing for the ruthless Wyoming environment.

Hell and Back was gripping. The reader quickly surmises, long before Walt, that he’s in some strange entryway to the afterlife. There are clues if you’ve read other books, because he’s seeing and talking with people who died in previous books. He just doesn’t remember any of them. When reading this, you don’t know what caused Walt to be in this place but you travel with Vic (Longmire’s deputy) and Henry (Longmire’s friend, often called the Bear or the Cheyenne Nation) as they try to find him. Walt also travels back in time as a ghost to help the Native boys in the 1896 boarding school. There he learns more about the Wandering Without and who is feeding it. Once out of the past, he finds that he’s being specifically hunted by said creature.

I don’t think you have to read previous Longmire books to enjoy Hell and Back. Just assume that everyone Walt meets in Fort Pratt is dead… and go from there. Be ready for freezing cold and a unique view of the afterlife.

[Apology: I wasn’t able to get all the diacritical marks on the Cheyenne name for the “Wandering Without” correct. The 2nd to last “e” should have an overdot.]

Any opinions?

  • Illuminating (1)
  • Interesting (2)
  • Useful (0)
  • Ho-Hum (0)