William W. Johnstone is an author many Americans hold close to their heart.
Having written over 200 novels in multiple genres, although most well known for his Western series and general plots set in the Cowboy historical period, Johnstone is a name that many avid American readers will recognize from the coffee tables of hotels as well as the library bookcases.
Often lengthy tales of cowboys and outlaws with much historical discussion in them, it can be hard to know which novels are worth reading and which can be left in the pile.
In this article, we will suggest a few of his books that both surmise his style and also are more well-reviewed. Keep reading to learn more about William Johnstone, and which of his novels are considered to be the best.
About William W. Johnstone
William Johnstone was born in Southern Missouri to a ministerial father and school teacher mother. He originally worked as a Deputy Sheriff at a Carnival before a small stint in the army.
After leaving the army he had a career in radio broadcasting which likely helped develop his mastery of language and storytelling skills.
Much of this knowledge of the Wild West and the Frontier comes from listening to his grandparents recount tales of the latter. He started writing in 1970 but it was until The Devil’s Kiss in 1979 that he was first published.
He has had success writing in western genres and subgenres, with nearly 200 books under his belt. His main series are Mountain Man, The First Mountain Man, Ashes, and Eagles.
While Johnstone died aged 65 in 2004, books continue to be released posthumously after his family took over his publication house, finishing previously unwritten books.
This is the first of the Dog Team Series that is acclaimed to be Johnstone’s favorite of his own novels, and the book is generally reviewed to be one of Johnstone’s best.
The first of a series, the novel introduces us to Terry Kovak, considered to be one of Johnstone’s more hard-hitting characters. He was chosen for an elite secret squad of deadly soldiers, secreted away even from the nation’s public.
He was one of the most feared soldiers in the country but now his war is at home dealing with mundane life in the shadow of his mercenary military career.
Being the last of this squad his deadly skills are no longer needed by his country, but can he handle like on the home front?
- Compelling Main Character.
- Ideal or Young Adults.
- The nature of the plot means not much action.
The Ashes series from Johnstone is his series of post-apocalyptic novels.
They depict Ben Raines, the book’s hero, attempting to rejuvenate and rebuild the US after the devastation of World War III, where Johnstone imagines Russia and the US finally came to war.
In this particular novel we see Ben Raines is no longer US president but is attempting to rebuild the Tri-State area or what remains.
Meanwhile, the Russians have settled in Iceland and look to build a master labor race of mutant and human combinations. Raines’ Rebels and the civilians left in the US fight back against the Russians, united under Raines’ leadership.
The book is considered to be the best in the Ashes series for its quick-paced storytelling and having a good amount of action in it, as well as a unique story line and compelling main character.
It’s worth reading to see how Johnstone writes this sci-fi post-apocalyptic Western adventure.
- Unique storyline.
- Compelling main character.
- Fans of Westerns may not enjoy the sci-fi twists.
- Raines’ beats the enemy a little too easily sometimes.
Considered to be the best in the series, or at least the most well-written, this book is a prequel that tells the original story of Preacher, the titular character in Johnstone’s ‘The First Mountain Man’ series, and is the 8th book in the series.
Preacher is filled with wanderlust and courage and leaves his family in Ohio to venture Westward. On his journey west he comes across all kinds of crooks and villains that shape him into the man of the later books.
Here he learns the first rule of the frontier: do whatever it takes to survive.
Having made enemies across the nation he heads to the Rocky Mountains to seek peace in the wilderness, on top of these peaks he learns what it is to be a man and returns two years later with new skills and a new future.
- Great for those who like Preacher from the previous novel in the series.
- Classic western adventure with a unique storyline.
- Doesn’t necessarily lead into the next novel in the series very well.
This is Johnstone’s first novel which was interestingly not the Western he is known for but is instead a horror novel.
The novel is gruesome and deals with religious themes that some may not enjoy, if you are looking for his Western novels, this pilot novel for Johnstone is quite different.
It’s basically a classic Christian fable, Sam Balon is a preacher in small town Nebraska but he notices that his small town starts turning pretty sour for seemingly no reason.
Satan sends warlock Black Wilder and witch Nydia to Whitfield to turn its townspeople against God and towards Satan. Luckily Sam Balon is an army tough guy who uses his military training to put an end to the Devil’s doings once and for all.
The novel has a lot of sexual and depraved content of demon orgies and military minded ministers, it can all be a bit too much for some but if you’re willing to suspend logic and coyness then you might see why many enjoy the novel.
- Pretty unique plot.
- Christian-influenced Horror and Action.
- Compelling antagonists.
- Pretty gruesome, gory, and has a lot of sexual content.
- Not for the faint hearted.
Frank Morgan is the last gunfighter and in the 9th installment of this series, he faces some of his toughest challenges yet.
No Man’s Land is a strip of land destined to become the Oklahoma Panhandle, but neither Kansas nor Texas want anything to do with it. Morgan takes it upon himself to fight on this new Frontier but he may have bitten off more than he can chew.
While Frank Morgan is usually written to be untouchable, in this novel he comes up against a few decent scraps where he seems to have left his plot armor at home.
The outcome is a quite compelling account of Morgan that is different from the other novels in the series. There’s even a femme fatale that tries to settle Morgan down.
Many fans of Johnstone enjoy this novel most in the series for the nuances the author writes into his series hero, Morgan. At only 240 pages this is a shorter novel from Johnstone, which arguably works in his favor.
- Johnstone writes Frank Morgan at his most compelling.
- Another unique Western plotline.
- People enjoy how it stands out amongst the rest of the series.
- If you don’t like Johnstone’s Frank Morgan, the book can be a bit basic.
The novel is your classic cat-and-mouse chase through the Western Frontier and if you like your classic Western story this one won’t disappoint.
The Pardee gang, a band of siblings, and the marauding band known as the Utes plague the Oregon Trail and it is up to Preacher to lead them into the Rockies to their death and sweet justice.
Johnstone really draws the reader into the wilderness here and provides a classic Western story that any fan of the genre would enjoy. Beyond the classic story, the writing of the antagonists is classically weird from Johnstone.
Some of the acts the bad guys commit are unnecessarily hard to read, and a bit tongue-in-cheek. For Johnstone, it’s almost as if he has to write his bad guys doing some of the most heinous crimes in order to cement them as antagonists in the readers’ head.
- Classic western story.
- Bag guys badly written.
This is the last book of the Code Name series. It pits the ex-CIA agent John Barrone against ‘El Presidente’ Luis Mendoza. In this final installment, Barrone must spearhead the fight against Mendoza with a secret strike of force of ex-law enforcement elites and intelligence professionals.
Mendoza has removed himself from his native Columbia to form his own state of Pangea where he rules the law as well as the government.
Barrone and his gang of ex-CIA agents must stop Mendoza for the sake of humanity, but Mendoza is prepared to fight against America’s forces for his own sense of outlaw freedom.
The book is a classic spy thriller and an all-guns-blazing end to the series.
In classic fashion with Johnstone though, his own viewpoints and political rhetoric perhaps make it into the book a little too much making it seem like Johnstone living out some dream of far-right American spies destroying the potentially communist Latin outlaws.
- Classic spy thriller.
- The big ending to the code name series.
- Johnstone’s own rhetoric is overly present in this last novel and perhaps isn’t for everyone.
John Howard Stark is about to start a one-man war against the outlaws coming across the Mexican border, a Vietnam vet who has worked on a ranch on the border for years.
Suddenly he is plunged into the world of Colombian drug cartels as his ranch is attacked by bombs.
The attack leaves three Americans including his uncle and neighbor dead, and now Stark is on a road to vengeance, as well as defending his country.
With the Border Patrol and local law in the Cartel’s pocket, it is up to Stark to defend his own country and his ranch against the infiltrators.
Again, in the latter stages of Johnstone’s career, he seems obsessed with the border and writes these stories in his classic fashion that are more just vessels for his political opinions, an opinion which isn’t really for everyone.
- A compelling story of devastation that has you hooked from the get-go
- A classic Johnstone novel near the end of his career
- Very obvious political message that will divide readers
Johnstone is clearly a prolific and well-read writer who is dedicated to expressing himself through his stories.
Whether that is his interest in Western history and culture in the US, speculative presentations of his fears of what America could become or succumb to, or whether these stories are simply vehicles for his clear right-wing politics.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is William W Johnstone Dead?
Yes, he died in 2004. Although, this was actually left unannounced until 2006 when copyright pages of one novel suggested he had died and that a ‘carefully selected author’ was chosen to carry on his legacy and run his publishing house.
Who Writes William W Johnstone’s Books Now?
His cousin J. A. Johnstone writes most of his books now, or ‘co-author’s’ them at least. Most William W Johnstone books released after 2006 are co-authored by J. A., but it seems they use his name mainly for marketing and attracting his fans.
There is little explanation for whether they were originally William’s ideas being executed by J.A., or if they are the former’s own ideas. All the novels listed here are only authored by William.