Mahu Surfer: A Hawaiian Mystery
By Neil S. Plakcy
Alyson Books; 314 pages; $14.95
Reviewed by Christine Thomas Special to the Honolulu Advertiser
The message is ‘out’ from the title of Plakcy’s second novel, which follows thirty-two year-old Kimo Kanapa`aka, a recently outed homosexual Honolulu Police detective, as he goes undercover to solve the murder of three North Shore surfers. A Florida resident with an abiding interest in Hawai`i, Plakcy undertakes a significant risk not only in writing about the Islands, but via a first person, Native Hawaiian voice—one that in this case was better left alone.
For while the mystery has spotless pace, intriguing plots twists, and an earnest depiction of the real challenges faced by people transitioning out of the closet, Kimo narrates like he’s explaining Hawai`i to unknowing readers and it’s impossible to ignore the myriad errors that threaten to overwhelm the story. There are small spelling mistakes, such as Hawaiian spelled “Hawai’ian” and every ‘okina rendered as an apostrophe, and medium characterization flaws such as Kimo’s affinity for Tevas, the mark of tourists. Worse are glaring mistakes, such as a large landowner character, conspicuously named Bishop, owning a stretch of beach, or painting the North Shore and Honolulu as distant communities, where North Shore residents aren’t able to see Honolulu’s newscasts.
Had the protagonist been a malihini instead, errors could be built into the plot and add depth to the story of a likeable, altruistic detective, showing off Plakcy’s capable storytelling skills instead of a lack of thorough research about setting and culture.