A missing girl, a malevolent force and the plague of missing Native women at the center of the new Longmire mystery

DAUGHTER OF THE MORNING STAR by Craig Johnson, Viking, 322 pages, $23.49

The copyright page at the beginning of this book categorizes it as “mystery fiction.” It’s more than that, though; it’s a police novel, a ghost story, good sports writing, a tale of family dynamics, and a sociological commentary on the epidemic of missing Native women.

Even if readers haven’t seen any of the other 16 books in Craig Johnson’s Longmire series, they should be familiar with fictional Absaroka County’s sheriff through the popular Netflix series filmed in New Mexico.

In his new book, Daughter of the Morning Star, Sheriff Walt Longmire has strayed from his county in Wyoming to Lame Deer, Montana, to investigate threats to a high school basketball star. The girl’s sister is missing.

The plot gives Johnson a platform to discuss how many Native women are victims of violence. “The plight of missing and murdered indigenous women is so great that I had to reassure my publisher that statistics contained in this novel are accurate. The numbers are staggering, and they speak for themselves,” he writes in his acknowledgments. He runs through the many statistics that show Native women are far more likely than White women to be murdered, raped, or to experience other sexual violence.

In Morning Star, Jeanie One Moon has been missing for a year. Her sister Jaya, a player on the Lady Morning Stars basketball team, has been receiving anonymous threats. Longmire is called in to help by the girls’ aunt, a reservation police chief in Montana.

Many of the characters in Johnson’s previous books appear here. There’s the sheriff’s helpful friend, Henry Standing Bear, whom Longmire calls the “Cheyenne Nation.” As usual, Rezdawg, Standing Bear’s truck, plays a role in the story. The sheriff’s dog, named Dog, is a loyal friend who provides comic relief and occasional help with the bad guys. Deputy Sheriff of Absaroka County Vic Moretti gets her boss out of a pinch as she often does, this time by coaching the Lady Morning Stars basketball team in a championship game against the Navajo Eagles.

The other characters are numerous: white supremacists, a rich and sleazy oil man and his wife who is an old girlfriend of Longmire’s, cops from various agencies, coaches, high-school basketball players, and family and friends of the sisters Jeanie and Jaya.

Some of the best passages in the book are descriptions of basketball games. Johnson is a great sportswriter who would make any newspaper proud to have him on the staff.

The book’s action takes place between Lame Deer, headquarters of the Northern Cheyenne’s tribal government, and neighboring — but not nearby — towns. There is a lot of driving in the story, with plenty of cold weather and trips to uninhabited places.

Those uninhabited places are where a malignant supernatural presence reaches out for Longmire and other characters in the book. Some suspect that this Éveohtsé-heóme.se, known in English as the “Wandering Without,” made Jeanie disappear. She reappears, possibly as a ghost, in a snowstorm near a ranch and on the snowy roof above the gym where the championship basketball game is being played.

Longmire travels far to interview people who may have a clue to Jeanie’s disappearance. The various Montana locations and the many people the sheriff meets are hard to keep track of. If the book contained a map and a cast of characters, it would be easier to understand.

Even so, the story ends too soon. Nothing has been resolved. Jaya might go on to play basketball at a top university, assuming the person who has been sending her threats has been killed. Her father might go to prison for murder of the man who had been threatening her. Her mother could stop drinking. Longmire and a Crow rancher might have seen Jeanie’s ghost. The girl’s body might have been exhumed from the roadside near where she was last seen alive. The sheriff’s old girlfriend might be planning to make another play for him.

Longmire is off to Fort Pratt, the site of an abandoned boarding school near the Canadian border. It is somewhere that members of the Crow and Cheyenne tribes have heard of but can’t place and don’t want to visit. It is an ominous locality, perhaps connected to the supernatural presence that might have taken Jeanie.

The next book should be an interesting one if it wraps up some loose ends. It should also be a platform to let the country know about the plague of missing Native women. ◀

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