G. Robert Frazier

Daughter of the Morning Star, the 17th book in Craig Johnson’s riveting mystery series, proves that Sheriff Walt Longmire does his best work on the page, even compared to the acclaimed Netflix adaptation of the series, “Longmire.”

Longmire walks a fine line, serving the predominantly white populace of Absaroka County, Wyoming, as well as the members of the Cheyenne Indian Nation who live on the local reservation. When Chief Lolo Long of the Cheyenne Tribal Police asks for his assistance in investigating death threats against her niece, Jaya Long, the standout star of the Lame Deer Lady Stars high school basketball team, Longmire’s penchant for justice makes it easy to say yes.

With the help of his best friend, Henry Standing Bear, Longmire begins an intensive investigation that he believes is tied into the disappearance of Jaya’s older sister, Jeanie, a year ago. Jeanie was with friends on her way back from a party in Billings, Montana, when their van broke down. While repairs were being made, she wandered off, never to be seen again.

Longmire and Bear take the usual route of interviewing all of Jeanie’s contacts, hoping to find something the police or FBI missed. Some of the witnesses are helpful enough; some, not so much. A farmer, Lyndon Iron Bull, claims to have seen her singing in a snowstorm and warns of an ancient Cheyenne legend known as Wandering Without, “a spiritual hole that devours souls.”

Writing from Longmire’s point of view for the entirety of this fast-paced mystery, Johnson uses crisp prose and sharp dialogue to create a sense of immediacy as the investigation moves toward its inevitable, thrilling conclusion. The case also allows Johnson to incorporate horrifying statistics about how young Native American women are substantially more likely to be murdered, to be sexually assaulted or to commit suicide than the national average. Longmire knows that what happened to Jeanie and what’s threatening Jaya lie anywhere along that spectrum, and that’s what scares him. As readers, you’ll be scared too.

Daughter of the Morning Star, the 17th book in Craig Johnson’s riveting mystery series, proves that Sheriff Walt Longmire does his best work on the page, even compared to the acclaimed Netflix adaptation of the series, “Longmire.”

Actor William DeMeritt’s deep, measured narration enhances the elegant, evocative prose of Nathan Harris’ debut novel, The Sweetness of Water (12 hours). 

In the waning blood-filled days of the Civil War, Georgia farmer George Walker hires formerly enslaved brothers Landry and Prentiss to work his peanut farm—and perhaps to ease his restless soul. When George’s Confederate soldier son, Caleb, unexpectedly returns home, and Caleb’s romantic relationship with another soldier comes to light, tensions between George’s family and the town’s disapproving residents boil over. Only the cool, determined leadership of George’s wife, Isabelle, offers a path to healing.

DeMeritt’s performance of this Southern cast of characters reveals an actor in full control of his range. Particularly for the male roles, DeMeritt narrates with such skill that the listener can envision some of the characters’ faces just by the way their voices sound. Amid this world of unbridled change, DeMeritt illuminates subtle yearnings, quiet dangers and a persistent sense of hope.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of the print edition of The Sweetness of Water.

William DeMeritt performs with such skill that the listener will be able to envision Nathan Harris’ character’s faces just by the way their voices sound.

​​You know those motivational posters that hang in your place of work? The ones with the simple messages about teamwork, friendship, success and excellence? Carry On (2.5 hours), the new audiobook from late, great civil rights icon Representative John Lewis, is like that—only better, because his aphorisms are punchy yet never cliched, and you can take his inspirational words with you and play them anytime you need a lift.

Actor Don Cheadle narrates each of Lewis’ 43 short essays with clarity and passion, knowing just where to put the right amount of emphasis. While Lewis was unable to record the audiobook himself, Cheadle more than succeeds in embodying the congressman’s message of hope.

Ruminating on topics that range from justice and conscience to hobbies and humor, Lewis has blessed us with a timeless collection of wisdom and knowledge from a lifetime of “good trouble” in his nonviolent quest for equality. “A good day,” Lewis tells us, “is waking up and being alive.”

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of the print edition of Carry On.

While John Lewis was unable to record his essays himself, Don Cheadle more than succeeds in embodying the congressman’s message of hope.

Everybody loves a good origin story, right? If you’re fans of S.D. Sykes’ Somershill Manor or William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor mysteries, then you’re in for a treat. Both authors—after years of adventures with their respective sleuths—have turned back the pages of time to present their characters’ earliest adventures.

In Sykes’ The Good Death, set primarily in 1349, a teenage Brother Oswald de Lacy, who will one day become Lord Somershill, embarks on his first foray into detection after he discovers a petrified and abused young woman, Agnes Wheeler, in a forest. Agnes flees from him, and is subsequently swept away by a nearby river’s rapids and drowns. Upon returning her body to her own village, Oswald learns that she is but one of several young women who have gone inexplicably missing.

Oswald is in the process of becoming a monk at Kintham Abbey when Agnes’ death seemingly shatters his faith. Determined to learn who assaulted Agnes and what may have happened to the other women, Oswald embarks on his own investigation, much to the chagrin of both his own family and those in the brotherhood. After learning that Agnes may be his own brother's daughter, Oswald’s already tenuous devotion to the cloth is tested even further. With clues pointing to another monk at the monastery, Oswald grows increasingly unsure about who he can trust.

With the Black Death roiling through the countryside and forcing communities into isolation for fear of spreading the deadly disease, Oswald’s investigation becomes increasingly more difficult. Thankfully, especially for readers who want to avoid being reminded of the COVID-19 pandemic, the plague is only depicted on the fringes of events and is not a main element of the action. Instead, Sykes firmly plants readers in Oswald’s perspective throughout the story, easily evoking sympathy for his confusion, as well as his determination to discover the truth. Occasional chapters set 21 years later find Oswald revealing the sordid story to his mother on her deathbed, showcasing a deep connection between mother and son and their devotion to family, secrets and all.

In Lightning Strike, Krueger entices his legions of fans with a trip back to 1963, showing how Cork O’Connor developed his nose for the truth. At just 12 years old, Cork’s idyllic, carefree lifestyle in Aurora, Minnesota, is shattered when he discovers his mentor, Big John Manydeeds, hanging by a rope from a tree at the titular location, a cabin on the shores of nearby Iron Lake that was destroyed by lightning. The Indigenous Ojibwe people believe the destruction of the cabin was a sign from the spirits that the surrounding forest is sacred and shouldn’t be touched.

Cork’s father, Liam O’Connor, is sheriff of Tamarack County and seems convinced by the evidence at hand that Big John took his own life. A cache of empty beer bottles is found at Big John’s residence and his blood alcohol content is well over the legal limit, pointing to the inevitable conclusion that the man, who was recovering from alcoholism, must have fallen off the wagon again.

Cork, whose mother was Ojibwe and Irish American, isn’t so sure. For one thing, a shadowy sense of Big John’s spirit has begun to haunt him and several other Ojibwe people. For another, Big John had been sober for several years. Liam does little to discourage Cork’s questions about the death, perhaps because he has his own doubts about the circumstances surrounding it and perhaps because he sees something in Cork of the man he will become. He allows Cork to follow the breadcrumbs and let the facts lead him, pieces of advice that fans of the series will be thrilled to recognize as ones that follow Cork into manhood when he becomes sheriff.

But neither Cork nor his father, it seems, is quite prepared for the rising tensions between those on the Ojibwe Iron Lake Reservation, who knew Big John best, and the white community around them. Krueger deepens the mystery at every turn, ratcheting up both the plot reveals and pace of the story relentlessly before the stunning conclusion.

While longtime Krueger fans may long for another mystery featuring a grown-up Cork, they will quickly be won over by and embrace this excursion into Cork’s formative years. Krueger expertly blends his trademark mystery skills with a coming-of-age story that examines family, place and race.

Authors S.D. Sykes and William Kent Krueger—after years of adventures with their respective sleuths—turn back the pages of time to show their characters’ very first cases.

Annalisa Vega probably shouldn’t be investigating the latest murder linked to a serial killer, dubbed by the press as the Lovelorn Killer, who last struck in her Chicago suburb 20 years ago. Her father was the original investigator in the case and her boyfriend during her teenage years, Colin, was the son of the seventh murder victim.

But Annalisa’s a detective herself now, and, perhaps seeing this as a way to help her dad exorcise his demons from never having solved the case, she dives headlong into Joanna Schaffhausen’s multilayered mystery, Gone for Good.

Annalisa quickly learns the latest victim, local grocery store manager Grace Harper, was investigating the original spate of killings with an amateur sleuth club called the Grave Diggers. The similarities between her death and those of the earlier victims—all were found bound and gagged, dead on the floor of their homes—convinces Vega that Grace was closer to solving the case than even she might have thought, which prompted the killer to come out of hiding.

Schaffhausen, who has a doctorate in psychology and previously worked in broadcast journalism, uses her expertise to delve into the minds of her characters, extracting their hopes, desires and fears in equal measure. The author brilliantly explores Annalisa’s emotional connections with the characters around her. She’s not only been reunited with Colin for the first time in years, but her partner on the case is her ex-husband, Nick, who is also a detective. Both situations prompt a flood of emotions that threaten to cloud Annalisa's judgment.

Chapters told from Grace’s perspective are cunningly interspersed with Annalisa’s traditional gumshoe detective work, yielding additional insights along the way. While Schaffhausen throws in a few red herrings, all the clues are there for readers if they pay keen attention. And even if readers should figure things out ahead of Annalisa, the action-packed ending and final twist are more than worth seeing Gone for Good to its finish.

Annalisa Vega probably shouldn’t be investigating the latest murder linked to a serial killer, dubbed by the press as the Lovelorn Killer, who last struck in her Chicago suburb 20 years ago.

Anyone who has ever served as a caregiver to an older parent or grandparent will instantly relate to Freddy Bell in Caroline B. Cooney‘s new mystery, The Grandmother Plot. As her closest living relative, Freddy has taken responsibility for his grandmother Cordelia Chase, who is slowly becoming more and more affected by dementia.

While Cordelia resides in Middletown Memory Care (or MMC, “an institution that cared for people who once had memories and would never find them again”), where she is warm, safe, fed, bathed and medicated, Freddy feels compelled to visit her frequently. Freddy suffers from what he deems “nonvisitation guilt,” which he compares to malaria: “You had a bout of suffering and then you improved and forgot you ever had it, and then you had another bout.”

As if Freddy needs the additional pressure. A glass blower by trade, he’s up to his neck in commitments to supply glass pipes for the clientele of the Leper, a local drug kingpin. Already trying to stay one step ahead of the Leper’s enforcers, who are out to collect the money he owes, Freddy’s life is further complicated when a fellow resident of MMC appears to have been deliberately suffocated, potentially putting his grandmother in danger.

With its amateur sleuth and realistic conflicts, the personable Grandmother Plot falls somewhere between a cozy and a domestic thriller. Besides Freddy, who is compelling enough on his own, Cooney populates this mystery with a cast of quirky characters (including a young woman with an obsession for pianos) who offer much-needed levity to the plot.

The author of the popular YA thriller The Face on the Milk Carton, Cooney has a knack for creating memorable characters that immediately resonate with readers. She sensitively depicts Cordelia’s horror at losing everything she ever knew, as well as Freddy’s journey to finding the courage and compassion to care for and forge new memories with his grandmother. As such, The Grandmother Plot is more than a simple crime caper; it is one with a whole lot of heart.

Anyone who has ever served as a caregiver to an older parent or grandparent will instantly relate to Freddy Bell in Caroline B. Cooney‘s new mystery, The Grandmother Plot.

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