The author brings the off-grid, undocumented Hawaiian perma-camps to life. When I was in Waianae, I saw a lot of people camping permanently on the beach. (I have a lot of feelings about Hawaiians living on their native land, living the same natural lifestyle as their ancestors, but it’s illegal now because colonizers claimed the islands and stuck up No Camping signs. (But at the same time, kids need to go to school!) In the novel, certain residents pay cash for anything needed and squat in the jungle, and live without a lot of modern conveniences.
Waianae also has a beautiful heiau, a religious place for the ancient Hawaiians. I don’t know too much about early Hawaiian religion, I was just moved by the beauty of this spot, so in the book, when the investigators had to search a heiau, I was really anxious that they’d desecrate or ruin it. That’s how well the author brings the setting to life!
I also loved the incompetent medical examiner, a fairly minor but way too realistic character. Haven’t we all had a colleague who was completely unhelpful and almost entirely useless, but somehow just barely good enough to keep their job? Aaaah, I really felt for poor Koa here.
Unfortunately, I found the women characters slightly flat. Beautiful, successful, loving girlfriend Nalani is a bit too perfect to be relatable, while another character is a fairly one-note Rejected Ugly Woman. I hope this is just a function of how many characters Koa meets in this investigation, and that future Koa Kane novels will develop women characters further. (Also, an attractive, stylish, well-groomed woman nursing a secret crush would be more of revelation than discovering that the woman described as aging poorly, wearing too much makeup, unattractive in so many ways, etc., is desperately lonely and loveless.)
Overall, it’s a well-plotted mystery with a wide cast of characters and far-reaching connections, with just enough departmental politics to keep Koa feeling like a real person doing a real job.
For more Hawaiian fiction, try our list of the best novels set in Hawaii.