Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5
Mahu — a generally negative Hawaiian term for homosexuals — introduces a unique character to detective fiction. Kimo Kanapa’aka is a handsome, mixed-race surfer living in Honolulu, a police detective confronting his homosexuality in an atmosphere of macho bravado within the police force. A man of intelligence, strength, honesty, resourcefulness, and intense dedication to the people of Hawaii, Kimo is a hard-boiled hero you will never forget. Fast-paced, intricately plotted, thoroughly enjoyable, this is a sexy, surprisingly moving mystery about discovering oneself as much as catching a killer.
I have been singing the praises of Neil S. Plakcy’s Mahu series for a long time now. One of my favorite series, I’ve been following the life of Kimo Kanapa’aka, a gay police detective in Honolulu, Hawaii for ten books now, the last being Ghost Ship (Mahu, #10). By Ghost Ship, Kimo has settled down with his husband Mike, a foster son, and sharing parenting of twins with a lesbian couple. It’s been quite a journey for Kimo and family, a remarkable one the reader has been on with him every arduous step of the way. And it all started with Mahu, first published in January 2005.
There we meet a vastly different Kimo, one trying to figure out his sexuality, a supposed “straight” detective within the Honolulu Police Department back when they had Palm Pilots, VHS tapes, where being out or even homosexual definitely wasn’t something you expected to be accepted for with the family, let alone within a Police Department.
So Plakcy gives us a complicated, decent, torn man who at his mid thirties is trying to figure out who he really is. And puts Kimo in the midst of a murder at the worst time of his life. I remember reading this story and feeling every bit of the pain and anguish that Kimo was going through. But listening to it? A hundred times more real and immediate. The suspense of Kimo being found out during the investigation becomes palpable when listening to the narration by Joel Leslie, whose acting is superb.
One of the huge strengths of the Mahu series and the Plakcy narrative is that the author’s marvelous use of the local Hawaiian colloquialisms, sinking the characters into the culture via the vernacular of the mixed races that is Hawaii. The familiarity of the island topography along with the religions and politics lay a authentic foundation for Kimo and his family and all the strong relationship dynamics that play out in this story and the series. It does so in the books and here in the audio version.
I have to admit the first hurdle any narrator has to overcome (even the wonderful Joel Leslie) is my mental image of Kimo Kanapa’aka. He was a complete person in my head, including a voice that didn’t sound like the one Leslie assigned to him. That took some getting used to. Once that hurdle was surmounted, I was able to completely lose myself back into a story I had loved so much and now got to enjoy again. Leslie did an outstanding job the the huge cast of characters and all polyglot of voices he had to produce. From the Chinese (elderly and young) to the Japanese to the Islanders (Polynesian etc), the Hawaiians have a name it seems for every racial mixture. And perhaps even a different tonality. Joel Leslie does them all justice!
I hope that all of the Mahu series make it into audio version, I can’t wait to listen to them all. This was a wonderful way to revisit the beginning of the series. If you are new to Mahu, why not start here? If you’re a fan of the series, I think you’ll find this a delightful way to revisit an old friend. Either way this is a audiobook I highly recommend!
Cover art is wonderful. Artwork is both primitive and colorful. Love it.
Listening Length: 11 hours
Published August 8th 2017 by MLR Press (first published August 1st 2005)
SeriesMahu #1 settingHawaii (United States)
This book is part of The Mahu series