Blood Orchids by Toby Neal

This quick little mystery read was a real surprise packet. First of all, I was able to satisfy one of my lists – reading a book set in each of the 50 United States. In this case, the story is set on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was great to have Hawaii represented and not by the typical settings of Oahu or Maui.

Secondly, this was just an all around good mystery. There are enough twists and turns to keep the average mystery reader interested and engaged. Additionally, the writing is very good and I was interested enough that I read this whole book in 24 hours.

Lei is a police officer who has some secrets in her past that inform both her personal life and her work. The story opens right off with the discovery of two bodies – both teenage girls, one of whom is known to Lei. She and her partner, both native Hawaiian’s, are co-opted onto the case by a new detective from the mainland who has to come to Hawaii to escape his own personal past.

One of the wonderful things about the writing is that when the Hawaiian officers and indigenous Hawaiian’s speak to one another, they do so in pidgin. This gives the story the authenticity that is often lacking in stories where a regional accent is important. The pidgin is not represented as baby talk or “haole – white man” interpretation. The food and the lifestyle as well as the landscape are so well drawn that the reader is transported into the story not as a tourist but as an islander. This is very refreshing and I applaud authors who can do this well.

The short and long of it is that there is a serial killer on the loose and there are enough possible suspects to keep the reader guessing and the story moving along. In addition to the killings, Lei, the main character is being stalked. Her own natural paranoia due to her own past as well as the security measures that she surrounds herself with, create that feeling of claustrophobia one feels when one is cornered.

Just when you think the story is over there is one more loose end to be tied up. This was a little treat at the end of the book. There was a cop romance for those that need a little spice in their stories as well as family drama among the characters that showed how the line between being a criminal and being a cop are often informed by one’s past. In this case for a few of the cops involved in the story.

The book also showed the seamy side of Hawaiian life. The drugs, the crime and the residential areas where the tourists rarely tread. This is not Dog the Bounty Hunter either. This was a story told with an eye and ear attuned to native and indigenous island life. This appears to be the first story in a series about this detective.

For mystery lovers or those wanting a quick read, this is an easy four star recommendation.

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