A battle between a powerful land developer in Hawaii and a group of locals and environmentalists escalates into violence in Shon (Poison in Paradise, 2016, etc.) and debut author Hagino’s murder mystery.
The Kaka’ako district of Honolulu, a semi-industrial area with ocean views on one side and mountain views on the other, is the perfect spot for a high-rise condo development. Businessman Robert Shilling has his ducks lined up—connections on the zoning board, a police officer in his pocket, and plenty of cash to buy off the other powers that be. Although he faces opposition from conservationists, archaeologists, a reporter, and locals who want the area to remain “pono” (or culturally authentic), it looks like Shilling will win the day. Then a distracted bus driver plows into the stone wall that surrounds the Kawaiahao Church, the oldest permanent house of worship on the island of Oahu; this unearths an old wooden box, which is given to the Cook Museum. Inside is an 1855 deed to a parcel of land that Shilling needs for his project. The deed, and a recent will that bequeaths the parcel to Kekoa Potter, a young Honolulu resident, is the catalyst that turns the civil battle into a murder mystery. Although it initially appears that reporter Zoe Lee and Cook Museum researcher Kirk Daniels will be the central protagonists, the most prominent characters as the novel progresses are Detective Charlie C. Chang and his restaurant-owner buddy Yoshiro “Moto” Fujimoto. The pace of the story increases after its central murder, but all the characters—the good, the bad, and the quirky—are thinly drawn, and the narration is sometimes more dispassionate than engaging: “And that’s how the conversation went for another five or so minutes.” That said, the authors do effectively communicate the long-standing tension between the Kama’ainas (native Hawaiians by birth) and the haoles (outsiders), and the cast interestingly reflects the diverse cultures (indigenous, Chinese, Japanese, mainland Americans, and so on) that comprise modern Hawaii. The plot also delivers a bit of a surprise at the end.
An unevenly written mystery enlivened by intriguing historical and cultural tidbits.