Craig Johnson uses mystery to explore violence against Native American women

“Daughter of the Morning Star” by Craig Johnson (Viking)

Cheyenne Tribal Police Chief Lolo Long’s niece Jayla, star of the Lame Deer Lady Stars high school basketball team, is in danger. The girl has received credible death threats, so Long asks her friend, Absaroka County Sheriff, Walt Longmire, to help him find out who is responsible.

What makes the case particularly worrying is that Jayla’s older sister, Jeanie, disappeared months ago. Longmire believes that the disappearance and the threats are probably linked. With the help of his pal Henry Standing Bear, he sets out to find out what happened to Jeanie while trying to keep Jayla safe.

Thus begins “Daughter of the Morning Star”, the 17th novel by Craig Johnson starring Longmire. This time, the author uses the mystery genre to raise awareness of violence against Native American women, half of whom are believed to have been sexually abused and who are murdered at 10 times the national average.

While pursuing the case, Longmire encounters dysfunctional families and white supremacists while grappling with a grueling Cheyenne spirit known as The Wandering Without, “the nothing, the thing that takes and never gives.” Johnson’s series often contains spiritual elements, and this time around there are times when neither the reader nor Longmire can be sure what is real and what is not.

Longmire also has to deal with Jayla, who is as uncooperative with him as she is with his frustrated coaches and teammates.

As usual with this series, the characters are well drawn and the suspenseful plot takes surprising twists and turns. However, the author’s generally first-rate prose falters when writing about basketball. In the acknowledgments, he credits a high school basketball coach for helping him understand the game, but the descriptions of practices and tournament games are awkward and at times difficult to follow.

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