Book Review: Bones of Hilo by Eric Redman
This is a police procedural with a difference, set mainly on the Big Island of Hawai’i, with a (three-eighths) Native Hawai’ian protagonist in Detective Kawika Wong. When a resort developer is found impaled through the heart on a tee box at a major tourist resort, and a local group fighting against his latest project is implicated, it’s important to have a Native detective on the case, so Kawika gets the job.
It’s a really complicated case with a lot of different moving parts and a lot of suspects, as the developer turns out to be a corrupt type with a string of victims in his wake… some of them dead under suspicious circumstances. Every string Kawika pulls on seems to drag up yet another tangle, and his own complicated love life isn’t helping him keep a clear head.
There’s a lot to like about this story; there are complex issues of morality and the nature of justice and vengeance considered and I liked learning about the cultural issues, which were presented in an engaging way as Kawika himself learned about them. The book does, however, fall into the shocking trap too often found in the writing of men; literally every female character is someone’s wife, girlfriend or mistress. Not one of Kawika’s work colleagues, or the experts or officers from other agencies he consults, is a woman, with the sole exception of one of his two girlfriends, who fortunately for him happens to be an expert in Native Hawai’iana he can consult. Every woman in the story is defined by her relationship to a man in it - it definitely doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, indeed, I can only think of one occasion in the book where two women were present in a room at the same time.
The audience for mystery thrillers and police procedurals has a high proportion of women, and it’s disappointing for us to see our entire gender reduced to being window dressing this way. Despite being intrigued by the case and enjoying the cultural aspects of the story, I wouldn’t read another book by this author because of these failures. I’ll give it three stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.