Ravenous mystery readers know that crime isn't limited to big cities. It's not even limited to Amish farms, charming British villages or too-perfect suburbs. Revenge and murder even finds its way to paradise, such as in Mark Troy's new mystery, The Splintered Paddle. In a guest blog post, Troy shares his insight into the dark side of Hawaii.
Where do most fictional private eyes hang their fedoras? That’s easy: New York City, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Far down on the list is Honolulu.
You can name the Honolulu private eye series on one hand. Television gave us Tracey Steele and Tom Lopaka in "Hawaiian Eye," and Thomas Magnum in "Magnum, P.I." The list of Hawaiian private eye novel series begins and ends with Charles Kneif’s John Caine. Some mainland-based eyes, such as Sharon McCone and Adrian Monk, have had adventures in the islands, but none have stayed. The most famous Hawaiian crime fighters are police detectives Charlie Chan and Steve McGarrett (both incarnations), but, even with their inclusion, the list is a short one. One gets the sense that there just isn’t much crime in the islands.
In the minds of most people, Hawaii is a paradise of golden sands, sparkling waters, waving palm trees and gyrating hula girls. Where are the mean streets? They are everywhere, but, like the changes in seasons, they are easily missed until you have spent time there.
Although I love Hawaii, its beaches and mountains, what I love most are its people and culture. By culture, I don’t mean hula dances and ukuleles, but the circumstances of history and geography from which the spirit of the people is formed.
One of the tenets of Hawaiian culture is a long tradition of resisting mistreatment of its citizens and of taking care of the weak and helpless. That tenet is stated in the Law of the Splintered Paddle—Kānāwai Māmalahoe in Hawaiian. The law was the first edict promulgated by Kamehameha I after uniting the islands.
The Law of the Splintered Paddle is basically understood to mean that citizens have a right to defend themselves against mistreatment by the government and that the weaker members of society can expect protection from the more powerful members. The state constitution makes mention of the law and the Honolulu Police badge bears an image of crossed canoe paddles in reference to the law.
Ava Rome, the private eye in my stories, is an outsider. She is not Hawaiian by birth or upbringing, so she brings an outsider's perspective to the culture. In that, she is like many other private eyes. What sets her apart from other private eyes is her mission. Ava believes in the Law of the Splintered Paddle. She believes in protecting the defenseless. She has adopted this basic tenet of Hawaiian culture and made it her mission in life. She doesn't require innocence to take on a client, only defenselessness.
Ava's belief in the Law of the Splintered Paddle is fueled by a burden of guilt over her failure, as a teenager, to protect her brother from bullying. She is determined not to fail anyone else. She takes on a prostitute who is being harassed by a high-ranking police officer and a troubled teenager who has fallen prey to her own bad decisions and to the predations of a marijuana grower. Ava's greatest challenge, however, arrives in the form of an ex-con, whom she had arrested when she was an MP. He is out. He is seeking revenge, and he harbors a secret from her past.
The Splintered Paddle is the story of a private eye, Ava Rome, and her personal foray down the mean streets of Hawaii to protect the defenseless in the dark side of paradise tourists seldom see.
Thanks, Mark! Readers, The Splintered Paddle is now available.
California native Karen Keskinen follows up her 2012 debut mystery, Blood Orange, with a new adventure for private investigator Jaymie Zarlin. In Black Current, the body of a local teen is found in a tank at the Santa Barbara Aquarium. It's ruled a suicide, but the girl's parents hire Jaymie to prove otherwise.
In a guest blog post for Private Eye July, Keskinen shares what it's like to be the featured author at book club meetings. It's no small job, that's for sure:
I’ve never been a chakra-and-crystals kind of girl. Sometimes I think a New Age is just what we need, but most of the time I find that this age we live in is—you know—good enough. And yet one night a few weeks back, as I walked home in the dark from a book club engagement, one of those New-Agey words popped into my head: shaman.
Yeah. As I walked home from a meeting right here in Santa Barbara, California, that’s what I felt like: a shaman. Maybe I didn’t exactly feel like one, but for the first time, I could sense the power those ancient storytellers wielded through their words.
This little city bristles with book club encounters every night of the week. Readers congregate in highbrow get-togethers and lowbrow get-togethers, well-heeled gatherings and run-down-at-the-heel gatherings, co-ed clubs, single-sex clubs and not-all-that-keen-on-sex clubs. But all these confabs have two characteristics in common.
One is food. Many so-called book clubs are actually misnomered: They are more accurately food and drink clubs. And huzzah to that! I’ve stuffed myself with full-on meals, nibbled at dainty noshes and, as a special tribute to my first book, taken part in a blood-orange-themed spread. You have not lived till you’ve tasted calamondin and blood orange pound cake. Yet, I digress.
Another feature these meetings have in common is that they encourage some feisty conversations, especially among my fellow Santa Barbarians.
Notice, I don’t claim readers think Blood Orange and Black Current are the greatest reads since Ulysses. But here in our town, these books are proving to be provocative, flaring matches put to drought-dried kindling.
When I arrive at a book club meeting, I usually say that I’ll stay for no more than an hour. I warn the members in advance that they might grow tired of me, and also that they might like to have time to say what they honestly think, once I leave. It makes no difference: I always seem to be driving or trotting home around 10:30, my mind roiling from the torrid and intense conversation, in no way ready for sleep.
The questions begin innocently enough. For example: Why is Jaymie Zarlin’s office address, 101 W. Mission, in fact that of the Cat and Bird Clinic? But soon, minutia dispensed with, matters warm up.
Are the rich so awful? Are cops corrupt? Are people that mean? So we talk about the bad in good people, and the good in bad. We talk about the abuse of power and the power money bestows. About corruption, both personal and systemic. And we talk about that corruption right here in River City, not in some theoretical realm.
In every book club I’ve visited, somebody has had her cage rattled. At one recent gathering, people were debating in twos and threes when a young woman said loudly: “Jenny, I’ve never heard you talk like that!” The room fell silent. Flushed, the accused looked away. For maybe the first time in her life, Jenny had publicly dropped the f-bomb.
I’ve thought about shamans over the past few weeks. How did they work their magic? They were conduits, mediums, copper wires. The shaman had her ear to the ground, a nose for the news, she didn’t miss much. And she let all that flow into her, through her, and on out to the ineffable, what we fear and don’t understand. Then all that power, transformed into story, flowed back again.
The face of the fear doesn’t matter: Once upon a time there were broken limbs that turned septic, and mountain lions that could flail open a man. Now we have terrorists, torturers, rapists. The bogeyman changes masks as the centuries pass, but never his nature, which is the ability to evoke dread.
The shaman’s tools never change, either. She has only three, but what a three they are! People, places and things. Waving those three wands, she teases out her listeners’ fears and dreams and heartbreak, then weaves all that chaos to make a map, a guide for survival. A story.
When book club members ask me questions about the settings, characters and special objects in Blood Orange and Black Current, I know their interest is piqued. But when they ignore my answers and insist on supplying their own, that’s when I know I’m their conduit: The readers are redeeming my stories, remaking them into their own.
Recently at one local meeting, an older woman announced she knew the real life people I’d used to create two of my characters, Dr. Bruce and Cynthia Wiederkehr. In fact, Bruce and Cynthia were created from whole cloth, but I had the good sense to keep quiet.
My reader whispered their names to a friend sitting beside her, and the two women raised eyebrows and exchanged knowing smiles. The Sha-Woman reached for a slice of chocolate cheesecake, and felt good. She’d given it over to them, it was their story now.
Thanks, Karen! Readers, Black Current is now available!
RITA award-winning and New York Times best-selling author Laura Griffin knows a thing or two about creating the perfect blend of romance and suspense. Her Tracers series follows an elite crew of forensic experts who help solve the most difficult cases—while stoking the flames of their super-steamy love lives.
In this guest blog post, Griffin shares her thoughts on the key to balancing romance and suspense—particularly in her latest Tracers book, Exposed.
I love to read books in which the tension never lets up, in which the stakes start high and only get higher, in which I’m holding my breath while reading, wondering what’s going to happen next.
That’s a thriller, right?
Sometimes, yes. It can also be a romantic suspense novel. Romantic suspense is one of my favorite genres to read and write because tension permeates the entire story.
One of my favorite movie adaptations is The Bourne Identity, starring Matt Damon and based on the novel by Robert Ludlum. The first time I saw it, I was mesmerized. I loved trying to piece together the story puzzle, loved watching the chase scenes, loved the dizzying special effects. But amid all the action, I kept looking forward to the quieter scenes between Jason and Marie.
These scenes feel special because it’s in these moments that we get to see the emotional side of the characters. I mean, who doesn’t love watching Jason Bourne careen through the streets of Paris to outwit the baddies on his tail? But I like another later scene just as much . . . the one in which he cuts Marie’s hair to disguise her and then she kisses him. And the entire moment feels stolen because they’re on the run.
Danger and emotion. It’s a powerful twin engine that propels a story forward. I try to use it in all of my books.
Danger comes pretty naturally to the Tracers series, which focuses on an elite group of forensic scientists who help detectives solve their toughest cases. The books feature homicide cops, FBI agents and criminal profilers—along with an array of “Tracers,” forensic wizards who work their magic on the evidence to help identify and track down the bad guys. Most of the Tracers books begin, in some form or fashion, with a murder.
The newest book in the series, Exposed, features forensic photographer Maddie Callahan. When a photograph that she took turns out to be crucial evidence in an FBI investigation, Special Agent Brian Beckman meets Maddie and immediately takes an interest. He needs Maddie’s evidence, but he’s also intent on protecting her after he realizes that her life is in jeopardy because of something she saw through her camera lens.
Following a major loss, Maddie has closed herself off to people, especially men. But Brian is determined to get past her defenses and draw her out. Exposed is a mystery on the outside, but the heart of the story is the romance.
My favorite romantic suspense authors make me care about the outcome of the mystery because I care about the characters. Why do I care? Because between all the action moments I’ve had a chance to glimpse their feelings. I’ve become emotionally involved in their fate. Now I’m not just rooting for them because they are the “hero” or “heroine.” I’m rooting for them because they are determined, flawed, hopeful, resilient, vulnerable.
In other words, they’re human, not just superheroes. Characters like that come alive on the page and stay with me long after the story ends.
In my mind, that’s the hallmark of a good book.
Thanks, Laura! Exposed is out now. Will you be reading it?
I always love finding out what an author's research process is, so when I learned that writer Ingrid Thoft actually attended and graduated from the University of Washington private investigator program, I simply had to see how that helped her pen her debut crime fiction novel, Loyalty.
Loyalty is the story of P.I. Fina Ludlow, a kick-butt heroine who's the black sheep of a super-powerful, super-dysfunctional Boston family. When her brother's wife goes missing, the cops assume the husband's to blame, so Fina is called it to figure out what really happened. Fina's digging reveals so family secrets no one expected her to find, and as Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney writes, "Her allegiances will be tested, as will her detective skills, for it is likely that someone close to her is singularly undeserving of her loyalty."
I just love Thoft's answer about the coolest thing she learned in the P.I. program:
"One of the cases that stands out was part of a presentation done by a scientist from the Washington State Police crime lab. She discussed trace evidence and the idea that we all leave things behind wherever we’ve been and pick something up from that location as well, whether it’s fiber, hair or residue of some sort. Her example was ash from the Mount St. Helen’s eruption. The ash that was deposited into a suspect’s car filter could only have come from a particular place at a particular time. Suspects can be fastidious and cunning, but you can’t outsmart Mother Nature!"
Poppet by Mo Hayder
Atlantic Monthly • $25 • ISBN 9780802121073
published May 14, 2013
Is there any creepier setting than a mental institution? Combine that tried-and-true horror milieu with the talent of an author who can make the brightly lit streets of Tokyo feel sinister, and it's almost an unfair advantage. But that's what we get with Mo Hayder's sixth Jack Caffery thriller, Poppet.
The Beechway Psychiatric unit in Bristol, England, was built as a workhouse in the mid-1800s. After a significant remodel in the 1980s, it is now as pleasant and bright as a high-security residence for the insane can possibly be. At least, until a rumored relic from its Victorian past begins stalking the hallways, preying on the minds and bodies of the residents. Is "The Maude," as the residents refer to the disruptive agent, actually a ghost? Or is it something even more evil—and human?
"Don't make me say what's scary, Mr AJ, or mention that name. I bin told I ain't supposed to say it, so I ain't even going to whisper it and you'll excuse me for that, but though you are my deep and most respectful of friends, I am just going to keep my piehole shut at this moment in time."
[Moses] nods to himself as if to confirm those were the exact words he meant to use. He says nothing more. The doctors spent a long time putting Moses back together, working on his eye implant, but if you know what to look for you can still see his face is misshapen. What actually happened to Moses that night? AJ wonders. They can go on putting The Maude down to hallucinations and fantasy, but something happened that night. And whatever it was was powerful enough to make Moses gouge out his own eye.
What are you reading this week?
Related in BookPage: Mo Hayder's author page.
Meg Gardiner's new novel, The Shadow Tracer, is an explosive thriller about Sarah Keller, a single mom and a skip tracer. But what is a skip tracer, anyway? We asked Gardiner to share some insight on skip tracers and introduce readers to the heroine at the heart of her gripping new book.
Sarah Keller is a skip tracer. She hunts down bail jumpers, debt dodgers and people evading arrest. She searches for people who can’t be seen directly, because they avoid the light. But they cast shadows. And that’s what Sarah traces.
To penetrate those shadows, she has become a chameleon. A skip tracer, she says, is a hunter, a manipulator and a professional liar. But Sarah’s more than that. She’s a guardian.
Sarah is mother to 5-year-old Zoe. The little girl came unexpectedly into her life, and Sarah has rebuilt her world around protecting her. That’s how she ends up in Oklahoma City, trying to be a good mom while chasing down deadbeats and criminals. She has become a skip tracer to learn every trick about staying off the grid—not just to catch people on the run, but to train for the day she might have to run herself.
Disappearing is hard to do these days. Going dark in the age of Facebook and PRISM takes smarts, luck and incredible discipline.
That’s what Sarah Keller needs, because she has her own secret, and if it’s exposed, Zoe will be in danger. And that’s just what happens. An accident reveals Zoe’s whereabouts, and sets some scary opponents on her trail.
With their cover blown, Sarah takes Zoe on the run across the Southwest. She scrambles for safety with only her wits, her skip tracing skills and her meager savings to rely on. She’s backed up—maybe—by a U.S. Marshal and a nun. She’s up against the FBI and a criminal clan that wants to grab Zoe for their own purposes.
It’s a chase, a game of hide and seek, with a little girl’s life at stake. And at bottom Sarah is fighting to keep Zoe from being grabbed by her father’s family. The clan will do anything to get hold of Zoe. Sarah’s every brave and desperate move is designed to save Zoe from them.
Sarah considers herself half shepherd, watching over Zoe, and half wolf, running down rogues. But when push comes to shove, Sarah’s a hero. She’ll have to be, if she’s going to survive.
Thanks, Meg! The Shadow Tracer is out now! Readers, will you check this one out?
Stay tuned for many more guest posts from mystery and thriller authors throughout Private Eye July!