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Review: Johnson explores violence against Native Americans

September 21, 2021 GMT
This cover image released by Viking shows "Daughter of the Morning Star" by Craig Johnson. (Viking via AP)
This cover image released by Viking shows "Daughter of the Morning Star" by Craig Johnson. (Viking via AP)
This cover image released by Viking shows "Daughter of the Morning Star" by Craig Johnson. (Viking via AP)

“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 been getting credible death threats, so Long asks her friend, Absaroka County Sheriff Walt Longmire, to help her find out who is responsible.

What makes the case especially ominous is that Jayla’s older sister, Jeanie, disappeared months ago. Longmire figures the disappearance and the threats are probably related. With the help of his pal Henry Standing Bear, he sets out to discover what happened to Jeanie while trying to keep Jayla safe at the same time.

So begins “Daughter of the Morning Star,” Craig Johnson’s 17th novel featuring Longmire. This time, the author uses the mystery genre to raise awareness about violence against Native American women, half of whom are reported to have been victims of sexual violence and who are murdered at ten times the national average.

In pursuing the case, Longmire encounters dysfunctional families and white supremacists while grappling with a life-draining 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 moments in which neither the reader nor Longmire can be sure what is real and what is not.

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

As usual with this series, the characters are well drawn and the suspenseful plot takes some surprising twists. However, the author’s prose, which is usually first-rate, falters when he writes about basketball. In the acknowledgements, he credits a high school basketball coach with helping him understand the game, but the descriptions of practices and tournament games are clumsy and sometimes hard to follow.

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Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”