THE BIG ISLAND by Jeff Raines

THE BIG ISLAND

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Corrupt police-chief vs. Mormon hit men--in a small handful of violent vignettes, awkwardly filled out long flashbacks (about 100-pp. worth) to the police-chiefs disillusioning experiences in mid-1960's Southeast Asia. Jim Yamasaki, chief of police on ""the big island"" (Hawaii), is 45-ish, college-educated, of mixed heritage (Japanese, Polynesian, Caucasian), very cool, and very mean. Together with entrepreneur Marty Stine from California, Jim regulates the island's vast marijuana-growing industry and coordinates the heroin trade from Thailand. When trouble arises, Jim and Marty matter-of-factly murder the troublemakers and dispose of the bodies. But when four Mormon missionaries wander into marijuana territory and are killed by pot-farmers, initial attempts at cover-up--faking a drowning accident, executing the farmers, killing a Mormon investigator--fail: the secret vengeance wing of the Mormon organization is apparently tireless and ruthless. So, to save his own life and protect his drug-smuggling colleagues (""my soldiers""), Jim arranges for his various enemies (Mormons, Japanese gangsters) to destroy each other. To pad out this scenario--and supposedly to explain Jim's amoral ways--first-novelist Raines offers two large chunks of flashback: as a Marine in 1965 Vietnam, young Jim sees both heroics and atrocities; on a mission to Laos, he is captured and tortured by Laotians; then he's recruited by the local drug-kings (a talky French adventurer, a warlord named Han), becoming their new Hawaii-based partner. Unfortunately, however, despite this Indochina ordeal, Jim's motivation remains murky and hollow--as does his ultimate disenchantment with murder and such. (""It just wasn't the same anymore."") So, unlike crime-novels--by Elmore Leonard, Thomas Perry, et al.--which have invested killers and crooks with offbeat appeal, this remains a flat, lurid, disjointed debut: leanly lively in a couple of action sequences, but devoid of personality and amateurishly constructed.

Pub Date: Aug. 19th, 1987
Publisher: Beech Tree/Morrow