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Friday, August 06, 2021

Hawaiian Murder Mystery Tries Way Too Hard and Falls Far Too Short

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

At first glance, the death of a teenage surfer in a small Maui town looks like a routine drowning.  A closer inspection by police captain Walter Alaka'i, however, reveals hints of a far more sinister cause of death.  Wanting an expert opinion, Walter calls in his niece, Kali Māhoe, who is both a detective and an anthropologist specializing in Hawaiian culture and tradition.  Kali is also alarmed by what she finds on the corpse, especially considering the spate of noperra-bō sightings that have been reported.  She doesn't really believe that a mythological malevolent spirit is wreaking havoc on her community, but there's no doubt that someone is up to no good.  Who killed the young wave rider?  Kali is determined to find out.

As strange things continue to occur in Hana, followed by another body washed ashore, the pressure mounts.  Can Kali figure out what is going on in her town before she becomes the next victim?

I'm always drawn to books that bring the richness of Hawaii to life, drawing on its native beauty, culture, and traditions to create an intriguing, atmospheric setting.  Debra Bokur attempts to do this with The Fire Thief, her debut novel, even if it feels like she's trying way too hard and falling far too short. Even still, the exotic Hawaiian backdrop is the best thing about this murder mystery.  The characters, unfortunately, are just not a very likable bunch.  Even Kali and Walter come off as cold, crochety, and uncaring.  Kali has the potential to be an appealing heroine, but Bokur tries so hard to make her tough (how many times can she possibly mention Kali's warrior tattoos?) and independent that the detective ends up feeling unapproachable, unsympathetic, and invulnerable.  Not to mention completely unconvincing as either a cop or an anthropologist.  As far as plot goes, The Fire Thief moves on "island time"—it takes forever to get anywhere.  The murder mystery quickly becomes a secondary plot that is overtaken by a much less interesting hunt for stolen solar panels.  Besides a melodramatic fight sequence in the finale, there's little conflict or action to keep the tale exciting.  In the end, then, I found The Fire Thief to be a dull read marked by clumsy plotting, flat characters, and uneven storytelling. I only finished it because I'm trying to read a book set in every state and I needed Hawaii!  

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, and blood/gore

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find


  1. Oh I'm so disappointed! This looked like it had so much potential but I will take a pass on it. By the way I saw your comment about getting the Connolly book from the library. It's good but it's definitely not my favorite cozy series. It has a couple of interesting story arcs I'm hoping get resolved but I don't think it fully lives up to its potential. They're still fun reads but you may want to keep your expectations lower.

  2. I love books set in beautiful locations, but the story HAS to be good too! Thanks for your honest review

  3. The setting won me over, but I’m so disappointed it wasn’t a good read!


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