A Serpent’s Tooth Teacher’s Guide

By Craig Johnson

A Serpent's Tooth by Craig Johnson


Questions and Topics for Discussion

“You know the word of God, Sheriff?” “I know entire sentences.” (p. 54)

Sheriff Walt Longmire is accustomed to wrangling with Absaroka County’s criminal element, so he is taken aback when a concerned citizen asks him to hunt down an angel. However, when that angel turns out to be a teenage drifter with a complicated past and an uncertain future, Walt will stop at nothing to ensure that the righteous are protected and justice is served.

The teenage boy had spent the past two weeks hiding in Barbara Thomas’s pump house. In exchange for fried chicken, diet ginger ale, and the occasional shower, he made minor repairs around Thomas’s house-effectively convincing the eighty-two-year-old former homecoming queen that she was blessed with an angel. When Walt and his Undersheriff, Vic Moretti, surprise the boy while he’s fixing her sink, the “angel” bolts, giving Vic a bloody nose and leaving behind his pants and an 1859 edition of the Book of Mormon dedicated to “Orrin, Man of God, Son of Thunder” (p. 16).

Since a pants-less teen can only get so far, Walt soon has him in custody. The boy-who looks about fifteen and speaks mostly in scripture-claims that his name is Cord Lynear. No one matching his description has been reported missing, and Health Services surmises that Cord is a Lost Boy, “boys that get kicked out of [Mormon] groups for what the elders deem inappropriate behavior, but mostly just to make room for the older men so that they can have their pick of the younger women as multiple wives” (p. 30). Walt’s investigation leads him to nearby Butte County, home of Teapot Dome and its eponymous scandal-plus a newly arrived Mormon splinter group called the Apostolic Church of the Lamb of God. Inadvertently, Walt butts heads with the Church leader: a four-hundred pound “God-fearing man in search of peace and solitude” (p. 57) who travels with a cadre of heavily armed men-and just happens to be named Roy Lynear.

The elder Lynear has a pack of sons, both natural and adopted, and it’s clear to Walt that he’s indifferent to Cord’s whereabouts. Fortunately, someone else has designated himself as Cord’s bodyguard. And when Walt locks the boy up in the Absaroka County jail for his own protection, a wild-haired, wiry-built man claiming to be a two-hundred-year-old Mormon vigilante busts him out. Walt isn’t exactly sure why “Orrin Porter Rockwell, Danite, Man of God, Son of Thunder, and the strong right arm of the prophets of the Church of Latter-day Saints” (p. 72) has come back from the dead to protect a boy who’s obsessed with a VHS copy of My Friend Flicka, but, when innocent blood is shed, he’s willing to accept help from even the unlikeliest quarter.

New York Times-bestselling author Craig Johnson’s tenth Walt Longmire mystery, A Serpent’s Tooth, takes on religious chicanery, the CIA, and Big Oil in a riveting tale that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very last page.


Craig Johnson is the New York Times bestselling author of the Walt Longmire mystery series, now the hit A&E series, Longmire. He lives in Ucross, Wyoming, population twenty-five.

(Spoiler Warning: Don’t read on if you don’t what to know whodunit!)
  • Sarah Tisdale’s father, Dale, disowned her because she disobeyed his wishes. He never saw her again. Do you know anyone who’s been in Sarah or Dale’s position? If you are a parent, can you imagine a situation in which you might disown your child?

  • Cord and the other Mormon children in his compound were homeschooled. Should school attendance be compulsory until a child turns eighteen, or is homeschooling acceptable in certain circumstances?

  • Walt feels uneasy about his relationship with Vic, even though it predates his daughter’s marriage to Vic’s little brother. How would you feel in his position?

  • Walt tells Henry Standing Bear, “I haven’t been in a church since Martha died, you know that. I’ve been in more sweat lodges than churches in the last five years” (p. 118). Why does the death of a loved one turn some people towards religion and others away from it?

  • Walt remembers his parents quarreling about whether or not he should attend Sunday services. His mother told his father, “He’s too young to be making decisions like this for himself” (p. 153). At what age is a child old enough to choose what faith to either believe in or abandon?

  • Based on what you know about the CIA, do you approve of their methods? Could you-like Eleanor Tisdale and Wally Johnson-be married to someone whose job requires them to keep secrets from you?

  • Is Double Tough who he claims to be?

  • Tomás Bidarte is a ruthless killer, but the novel also shows him to be a loving son. Does Bidarte’s solicitous regard for his mother mitigate your opinion of him?

  • Do you think religious groups are adequately monitored and regulated by the United States government? Could a group like the Apostolic Church of the Lamb of God really get away with a grand-scale theft like the one they attempt in A Serpent’s Tooth?

  • How might the last century and a half be rewritten if science had engineered an energy source that could replace oil?

  • Did Vic know she was pregnant?

  • How will Bidarte’s attack on Vic change their relationship?
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