Daughter of the Morning Star: A Longmire Mystery
“A new Longmire novel is always a welcome treat, and Daughter of the Morning Star is another slam-dunk.”
Jaya “Longbow” Long, star of the Lame Deer Morning Stars high school basketball team, has been receiving death threats. Asked by tribal police chief Lolo Long, Jaya’s aunt, to investigate, Absaroka County Sheriff Walt Longmire crosses the state line from Wyoming into Montana to take on the case.
Walt soon discovers that Jaya’s sister, Jeanie One Moon, disappeared a year ago under mysterious circumstances after having received similar threats. A visit to Lonnie Little Bird, Head Chief of the Great Northern Cheyenne Nation and Longmire series favorite, reveals to Walt the staggering truth about the current plight of Indigenous women:
“‘How many Native women have gone missing here, Lonnie?’
“‘Close to three hundred missing person reports last year alone. We make up only 6.7 percent of the population but account for 26 percent of the missing persons, the majority of whom are women.’”
As the author explains in his Acknowledgments, “the chances of a Native woman being murdered is ten times the national average [and] murder is the third leading cause of death for indigenous women.”
Can Walt track down the person responsible for threatening Jaya before she disappears like her sister, never to be seen again?
Daughter of the Morning Star is the 17th Longmire mystery from the sure hand and understated wit of Craig Johnson. For those perhaps not familiar with the series, or the A&E/Netflix television program based on it, it has earned Johnson much praise and recognition over the years, including the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America, the Will Rogers Medallion Award, and something called the Watson Award for best sidekick in a mystery novel.
This last accolade is relevant because Walt returns to action with the help of his best friend, Henry Standing Bear, and a better sidekick might be hard to find these days in an ongoing mystery series. Also returning is Deputy Vic Moretti, who turns up later in the novel when Walt really, really needs her help.
Johnson’s skills as a storyteller remain in evidence as he develops his narrative on three different layers. The uppermost, forming the basis of the plot, is the ongoing threat against Jaya, which Walt investigates by following up on her sister’s previous disappearance, believing them to be linked. On this layer, Johnson is able to focus on his thematic material related to the horrific situation faced by Indigenous women.
A second layer, familiar to fans of the series, takes us into the realm of Native mysticism that has tantalized and confused Walt in previous stories. While stalking a suspect in the wilderness, his dog runs off into a canyon. Walt sets off after him but slips and falls. He strikes his head on rocks and struggles to remain conscious.
He’s confronted by a cougar behaving strangely, reminding us of the wolf in Land of Wolves (2019). He hears a mysterious Cheyenne song connected to dead spirits, sees a red scarf associated with Jeanie, and passes out. He later discovers that he somehow lost an entire day in that canyon without being aware of it.
The underpinning of this layer is the Native legend of the Éveohtsé-heómése, the Wandering Without, “a collective of lost souls that hunger for the living. The outcasts banished from the tribes over the centuries—the murderers, the mad, the deranged who were driven off to die in the wilderness.”
The fear is that Jeanie was pulled into the black hole of the Éveohtsé-heómése, and it’s her voice several people, including Walt, have heard singing the lament of the lost.
The third layer of the novel, as if the first two weren’t enough to keep us fully entertained, takes Walt into the unfamiliar world of girls’ high school basketball. Here, Johnson pays tribute to the rich legacy of sports juveniles, as the substory of the Lame Deer Morning Stars’ up-and-down season on the basketball court incorporates all the time-honored conventions established by authors such as Jackson Scholz, Dick Friendlich, and Thomas J. Dygard.
These include a team comprised of underachievers who lack self-confidence but not the desire to win their way to the big tournament; a star who dislikes all her teammates, hogs the ball, and ends up kicked off the team because of her attitude (much like Bobby Haggard in Dygard’s 1979 novel Outside Shooter); and a coach suddenly taken out of commission and requiring a last-minute replacement (Walt; well, actually, Vic).
All of which combines an inside game, great perimeter shooting, and flawless consistency at the line into another clear winner.
A new Longmire novel is always a welcome treat, and Daughter of the Morning Star is another slam-dunk.