Monday, January 2, 2017

Four Hawai`i books: a couple of winners, no losers

I celebrated the flow of the old year into the new by reading four books by Hawaii authors, some new some not.

Charley Memminger’s 2015 book, Aloha, Lady Blue is a rollicking story with familiar Hawaiian themes, along with murder, sailing, gangsters, light romance and a fun take on the modern cultures of the Islands. 

One of the blurbs on the back cover compares Memminger to John D. MacDonald, perhaps because Memminger was trolling for it. The hero’s boat is named Travis McGee and the hero lives on the boat, just as MacDonald’s McGee lived on his boat, the Busted Flush. 

But that’s not the best analogue.

Memminger, an accomplished humor writer, is far more Dave Barry than MacDonald. Irreverent, funny, occasionally sardonic. 

I hope Charley is working on a sequel, because Lady Blue was fun.

I came across another 2015 volume, The Musubi Murder, written under the pseudonym Frankie Bow—one of this prolific author’s Professor Molly mysteries.

I’d qualify this as a light Island detective story. The heroine, professor Molly Barda, works at a private college in a mythical town on the Big Island, where she teaches classes and solves murders.

“Bow” does a good job with local culture, which is hard to do. Because of that, I was disappointed that she sets it in the mythical town of Mahina. Why not use the real Hawaiian landscape? It would be so much more fun for the local reader.

The story is just a little over the top, starting with the human skull that shows up on a platter at a fancy dinner. But the book carries you along, and—this is the highest praise I can give a writer—I’d pick up another “Frankie Bow” book for casual reading. Musubi is the first in a series featuring Professor Molly.

I should have gotten to this writer earlier, but I picked up one of Toby Neal’s books for the first time. It was her second in a series, the 2012 Torch Ginger.

The book features detective Lei Texeira. She has boyfriend issues, a problem father, and disappearing homeless people. Oh, and a cult. As a reporter who covered Hawai`i’s cults in the 70s and 80s, I appreciate a good cult story. It felt like Neal could have benefitted from more research on cults.

The story is set on Kaua`i. I live on Kaua`i. It’s fun to see her navigate familiar ground. And her assessment of the culture and surroundings feels right. If you like Neal’s writing, there’s a nice selection of her Hawai`i books.

Bill Fernandez, a Kaua`i boy, retired judge, and Kamehameha Schools grad, has made a reputation writing historical non-fiction about his youth on the island. 

But he has moved into new territory. His 2016 book Cult of Ku is a historical fiction mystery, set in the 1920s. The story plays against a backdrop of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy just a few decades earlier, along with racism, intrigue, plantation-union issues, murder, plus a little love story.

I enjoyed this book . Bill and I will disagree on his take on some points of Hawaiian history and there were some editing issues—annoying bits like spelling Maui as Mau`i throughout the book.

That said, I hope he does more in this genre.

One thing that jumps out in any book about Hawai`i is the issue of non-pidgin speakers trying to render pidgin English accurately. I was raised on Molokai, and I like to think come by my pidgin knowledge honestly. When someone writes “waves been kine good,” it’s a red flag. 

My plea to Hawai`i writers not originally from Hawai`i: Find a literate pidgin speaker, and have him or her vet your efforts to convey the local patois.

But keep writing.
© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

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