In San Francisco’s Palace Hotel a king lies dying. And what seems like an endless array of counselors, courtiers, and creditors has come over from Hawaii to watch it happen, and to jockey for position after the fact. At the turn of the 19th century the question plaguing most Hawaiians is whether or not US annexation is a good thing. Suddenly, however, another question surfaces, just as vexing and more urgent: Where has the beloved Princess Leileiha gone? Enter mordantly acerbic Ambrose Bierce, who when he lived for real was probably the most influential journalist of his time. In Hall’s hands he’s all that and much more. He’s Sherlock Holmes on the other side of the pond, complete with an Americanized—younger, brasher, sexier—version of Watson, loyal fellow journalist Tom Redmond. Sugar magnate Silas Underwood, who for years has sweetened his pot by mixing deeply in Hawaiian politics, has, as Bierce enjoys announcing, charged the journalist-sleuth with solving the mystery. But there are several who don’t want it solved, including large, luscious, occasionally enigmatic Hounani Brown, the half-Hawaiian girl Redmond has begun to romance. Since Bierce has to deal with a kidnapping, a foul murder, aberrant behavior from a couple of spooky animals, a crooked spiritualist, and a hit-man sorcerer, it’s quite a while before he gets around to whodunit—rather perfunctorily.
A disappointing sequel to Ambrose Bierce and the Queen of Spades (1998). Though some of the parts are certainly entertaining—Hall is a vivid writer—the sum falls short.