Colorful characters populate Stephens’ (Nature of Evil, 2012) murder mystery set in a tropical paradise.
Hapless hero and first-person narrator Edgar Allen “Poe” Rutherford has a life in shambles. He flees to Maui for some desperately needed R&R at the invitation of his lifelong friend, Doug Foxx. The destination is Lahaina, an old seaside town with a thriving artist colony. The town should be idyllic, but it’s a vipers’ nest: Everyone seems to have a tangled past, and all the artists hate one another. No one is more hated than the most successful artist, Doug’s girlfriend, Lauren, who has superior talent but no original ideas, so she steals other artists’ ideas and outdoes the originator. Early on, though, Lauren is stabbed to death, and Doug is caught red-handed. He flees the scene with Lauren’s blood all over his clothes, and to make matters worse, the two had been arguing heatedly just before she stomped out of an art show. Despite the overwhelming evidence, did Doug actually murder his girlfriend? Poe intends to find the real killer and set his old friend free. Enter Poe’s love interest: Detective Alana Hu of the LPD. Things get off on the wrong foot for Alana and Poe and their uneasy relationship, but love sneaks up on them both. The rest of the cast fills out nicely: Nick James, who was planning to sue Lauren for the theft of his ideas; Xavier, “the pharaoh,” who channels Egyptian royalty while living in the pyramid he built; William Kelly, sculptor, who lives with a bimbo in a treehouse; and Bernard Henderson, photographer and terminal alcoholic—all have their reasons to want Lauren dead. How many islanders will die before Poe figures things out? This being Stephen’s second mystery, the promising talent shows his inexperience at times. The dialogue doesn’t really crackle, and Poe can be overly chummy with readers. At one point, he treads water out at sea—with a shoulder wound—for 10 hours. For the most part, though, the straightforward plot moves along briskly toward a conclusion that is impressively ingenious and surprising.
Fans of local color and eccentric characters won’t be disappointed.