- - Thursday, November 4, 2021

Although the series “Longmire” ended on Netflix, fans of the modern Western Sheriff Walt Longmire can still read Craig Johnson’s popular crime series of novels where Longmire is still on the job as the sheriff of a fictional Wyoming county. 

I reached out to Craig Johnson and asked what inspired him to write his latest crime novel, “Daughter of the Morning Star.”

“I was doing a library event up in Hardin on the Crow Reservation a few years back when I looked up and noticed a missing persons poster on the community bulletin board. It was a simple computer copy with the face of a young woman, bright-eyed and smiling and now… Gone,” Mr. Johnson replied. “The words were desperate, and pleading and a reward was posted. Her face was faded, and the paper wrinkled and yellowed with age — a fervent and unanswered prayer that fluttered against the bulletin board like a turning page every time the door of the library opened and closed.  I can’t think of anything worse than losing a loved one—I mean, having them turn up missing and then never knowing what happened to them. I’ve spoken with people to whom this has happened, and the thing I have heard repeatedly is that the worst part is the not knowing — the lack of closure, having no idea if they are alive or dead or if they suffered or are still suffering.”

Mr. Johnson went on to say that he wanted to write a novel about the plight of murdered and missing indigenous women, so he had to come up with the idea that would take Walt Longmire somewhere he’d never been before, like a bus full of teenaged girl basketball players. A young star basketball player, Jaya Long, was receiving death threats. The tribal police chief invites Sheriff Longmire to the Cheyenne Reservation, hoping that his involvement would bring additional attention to the case. Longmire discovers that Jaya Long’s older sister Jeanie had also been receiving threats, and she has been missing for more than a year.
 
What does the title mean?

“There was a great chief of the Cheyenne Tribe, and although he was known as Dull Knife (or Motšêške Ôhnêxahpo in Cheyenne, a translation of his Lakota name) to local settlers, U.S. military leaders, and other American Indians, his Cheyenne name is translated as Morning Star. He is much revered as the chief of the Northern Cheyenne who led his people in an exodus from their confinement in Oklahoma back to their native lands of Montana,” Mr. Johnson explained. “He’s so revered, in fact, that the college, the high school, the nation’s emblem and the flag of the Cheyenne Nation are his personal symbol. I thought that since Jaya Long, the epicenter of the novel, was playing for the Lady Morning Stars, that she would be the `Daughter of The Morning Star.’”
 
I asked if he was pleased with the TV series “Longmire.”



“We had a remarkable group of producers, directors, actors, and crew who pulled it all together in a remarkable way. Was it different from the novels? Sure, but that was okay with me—kind of like singing about painting. I remember the producers telling me that my books didn’t break down into a forty-two-minute teleplay, and I told them that if they did, they shouldn’t be reading them,” Mr. Johnson said.
 
Are there any plans to bring the TV series back?

“Well, we’re kind of victims of our own success. When Warner Brothers said they wouldn’t sell the show to Netflix, they decided to cease production after six seasons, and we figured that was it. Four years later, however, we’re still one of the top-twenty original content programs on Netflix, who puts out these multi-million dollar shows with all these big stars every month — and there we are, this little Cowboy and Indian show still chugging along… You would think that if Netflix ever gets around to dropping us that somebody over at Warner Brothers would figure things out,” Mr. Johnson said.  
 
The TV series retired Walt Longmire as sheriff in the final episode, but Mr. Johnson said he doesn’t plan to retire him in the novels anytime soon.

Are you working on a future Longmire novel?

“The next one ‘Hell & Back’ is already written, and I’ve started the one for two years from now, which is titled ‘Proud Flesh’ along with a novella, ‘Tooth and Claw.’” Mr. Johnson said, “I used to worry that I’d run out of ideas, but now I worry about dying before I get them all down on paper.”

Like his previous Walt Longmire crime novels, “Daughter of the Morning Star” is well-written, fast-paced and suspenseful. 

• Paul Davis’ On Crime column covers true crime, crime fiction and thrillers. 

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Daughter of the Morning Star
Craig Johnson
Viking, $28, 322 pages

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