cover image Hell and Back

Hell and Back

Craig Johnson. Viking, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-29728-5

At the outset of bestseller Johnson’s solid if surreal 18th Walt Longmire mystery (after 2021’s Daughter of the Morning Star), the Absaroka County, Wyo., sheriff wakes up in the middle of a snowy street, part of his sheepskin coat frozen to the ground. He has no idea who he is or how he ended up in Fort Pratt, Mont., or why he’s covered in blood with a bullet missing from his gun. Walt only learns his name when a waitress at a deserted café points out that it’s printed in his cowboy hat’s sweatband. Then, in a mystical turn, he’s transported back to 1896, when 31 Native American boys died in a fire that destroyed Fort Pratt’s Industrial Indian Boarding School. Meanwhile, Walt’s undersheriff, Victoria Moretti, and friend Henry Standing Bear go looking for him. This departure from the usual straightforward police procedural centers on Walt’s emotional health, keeping the reader wondering whether his fugue state is amnesia or insanity. Longtime fans will relish Johnson’s new insights into Walt’s character, though this isn’t the place to start for newcomers. Agent: Gail Hochman. Brandt & Hochman Literary. (Sept.)