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by Craig Johnson
Viking, September 2022
336 pages
ISBN: 0593297288

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I finished this book several weeks ago, and I've been putting off reviewing it for some time. Before I go any further, I need to state that I loved it. But it is not standard mystery fare, so I needed to wrap my mind around the craft Johnson employed to bring this novel to fruition as well as the messages he asks us to ponder. The book has some of the same feel as my favorite Longmire so far, HELL IS EMPTY. Johnson brought a decidedly spiritual perspective in that 2011 book (Longmire #7), and he's been incorporating more of that Native American spirituality in recent books. However, this one (#18) is a full-on ghost story.

In HELL AND BACK, Longmire takes a trip to the past as he finds himself in Fort Pratt during the time when an old Indian boarding school was in operation. He has no memory of how he got there, but he keeps finding people and surroundings that tickle his brain in an attempt to bring memories forward. Nothing seems to work according to the laws of physics even during the quieter moments in the town but, when he gets to the boarding school, reality truly goes off the rails. The sections of the book dealing with Longmire's visit to the past are interspersed with sections dealing with his friends from the present trying to find him. Both story lines are mind-bending.

There are several issues raised in the book, not the least of which is the practice of forcibly removing Native American children from their homes, punishing them for any connection with their heritage that they continued to observe, and the overall abuse that seemed to go hand-in-hand with the policy. The issue of missing Native American women is also touched upon as a continuation from the previous book in the series. Johnson also explores the manner in which our minds warp relationships with those who have left us, as well as how relationships in the present influence our actions.

In the midst of all of the reflection, there's a gripping plot in which the forces for good and evil collide dramatically. Sometimes, the good and the evil are hard to separate. Johnson always writes a great action scene, and there are several in this book during which you would have to be much stronger than I am to set the book aside. He brings the reader to Fort Pratt and the Indian school in much the same way he has transported the reader to his western landscapes in the past. Characters, both new to us and old friends, are extremely well developed. A reader familiar to the series will enjoy seeing echoes of past books play out on the streets of Fort Pratt.

Which raises the question, is this a good book for jumping into the series or is it necessary to have prior knowledge? There is no question that the book will resonate more for those who recognize the references to Longmire's past. However, for those who are willing to let go of a little sanity as they read this book (something that is sort of necessary regardless), the book can work as a standalone ghost story.

Sharon Mensing, retired educational leader, lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors in Arizona.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, October 2022

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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