In Waterfalls, Rainbows, and Murder, when the body of a beautiful and well-dressed young woman is found in the Hawaiian jungle, Dr. Pili Cummings is called in to help investigate. Pili’s hardly a typical police investigator. She’s studied anatomy extensively, stays calm in an autopsy, and has the respect of the police force, but she’s also a fashionista.
Pili and her mentor, the social-awkward prodigy Dr. Nathan Chow, begin investigating this mysterious death. No detail is too small for their notice — whether it’s a tiny gold thread from a military uniform or a unique seam from a brand-new sewing machine. (Without revealing too much about the clues, I have to say how much enjoyed awkward-genius Nathan’s enthusiastic and bizarre investigation of lingerie.) Meanwhile at home, Pili’s strong-willed and clever grandmother is planning a highly visible protest for women’s rights in downtown Honolulu… and Pili knows whenever her bilingual grandmother starts speaking Hawaiian to her relatives, she’s plotting something!
Waterfalls, Rainbows, and Murder is set in the 1920s, on Oahu. I lived on Oahu for a month teaching a winter session English class, and I recognized many of the Honolulu streets, which was really special for me. I wasn’t familiar with all the neighborhoods and military bases in this story, but I loved the descriptions of twenties resort homes and upscale communities.
I also loved the attention to historical detail. Gas prices, travel by ship Prohibition drinking habits, and of course fashion are all 1920s. Many themes, like the tension between military and locals, or between native Hawaiians and rich haole newcomers, are still present on Oahu today. The author uses occasional Hawaiian words to add color and authenticity. I recognized some common ones (Is it even possible to visit Hawaii and not hear food described as ono?) but there’s also a Hawaiian language glossary.
The story takes many surprising twists, slowly revealing not just the guilty party, but explaining how the entire situation came to be, and how the characters are changed by this murder in their midst.
Waterfalls, Rainbows, and Murder is a surprising murder mystery, with a clever and compelling heroine, set on beautiful Oahu.