COURTESY POISONPES PRESS
Author Deborah Atkinson, above, moved to Hawaii in 1978.
Local author’s best stars Molokai
Deborah Atkinson is an established mystery writer who has flourished in Hawaii. Born in southern Ohio, she moved to the islands in 1978 and, as many do, fell in love with the local culture. After a spell in business, she began writing whodunits with a local flavor, especially "Primitive Secrets" (2002), set on the Big Island, and "The Green Room" (2005), on Oahu's North Shore. Both have been well received.
By Deborah Turrell Atkinson
(Poisoned Pen Press)
286 pages, $24.95
Order from bookstores or www.poisonedpenpress.com
Deborah Turrell Atkinson
Meet the author: 3 p.m. Aug. 26
Place: Kaneohe Public Library, 45-829 Kamehameha Highway
"Fire Prayer" -- not prayer as in requesting a favor, but pray-er, one who solicits -- is Atkinson's third novel and easily her best. Like the other two, it stars Storm Kayama, a Hawaiian-Japanese attorney based in Honolulu, who is sucked into a murder investigation of increasing complexity. The story's climax is as full of revelations and surprises as any mystery aficionado could wish.
A fire prayer, or "kahuna kuni," is a traditional sorcerer with the ability to pray people to death. The figure is at the center of Atkinson's exciting story, most of which takes place on Molokai.
Storm's friend Tanner Williams asks her to visit the island to check up on his 12-year-old son, a newly diagnosed diabetic in the custody of his embittered ex-wife. Storm accepts what looks like a comfortable assignment, especially as her partner and lover, Ian Hamlin, also must visit the Friendly Isle, to investigate the disappearance of Brock Liu, son of a wealthy Oahu shipping executive.
It turns out, of course, that both inquiries unexpectedly interlock. Jenny Williams, Tanner's ex, is found dead, and Luke, the young son, disappears. Hamlin discovers that Brock Liu's disappearance and Jenny's death might be related.
Slowly the pieces slide into place. The action achieves terrific finality as the killer hunts Storm and Luke over Molokai's lush greenery and lonely shorelines.
But it's not the vivid action alone that makes "Fire Prayer" a standout. What's really attractive is the author's knowledge of Molokai culture and the way she skillfully weaves it into her tapestry. Each chapter is headed by a teasing quote in Hawaiian (translated for English speakers), while the characters and general narrative effortlessly include authentic and well-observed details of island life -- which are not always pretty. As Storm says, expressing one of Atkinson's deeper questions, "So what can we do? How do you keep your lifestyle, and still live in the 21st century?"
"Fire Prayer" isn't a murder mystery set incidentally in Hawaii, but a Hawaiian murder mystery whose incidents can't be separated from the culture itself. It will appeal equally to those who know modern Hawaii and those who seek to understand it.
is a published author, scholar in residence at Brigham Young University-Hawaii and adjunct professor of English and political science at TransPacific Hawaii College. E-mail him at email@example.com