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One Man’s Paradise

A malihini crime novel delivers the goods
One Man’s Paradise / One Man’s Paradise
Douglas Corleone
Minotaur, 2010
342 pages, $24.99

If you’ve been watching cable news over the past half-decade, the crime in Douglas Corleone’s new crime novel One Man’s Paradise is plenty familiar.

A young blonde sets off for two weeks’ vacation on a tropical isle, only to find that her credit cards are no good here–after a night under the moon with a randy local boy, she’ll be paying with her life. The American talking heads go bananas, demanding answers from what passes for justice in this suddenly menacing banana republic. Suspect after suspect offers an alibi, many of them based on the interwoven relationships that make up island life. As time passes, hysteria and prosecutorial difficulties mount.

What’s new here is that the banana republic in question is the erstwhile U.S. state of Hawaii. The way first-time author Corleone handles the subtleties of that distinction, and his impressive–if not quite unfailing–eye for local culture, make One Man’s Paradise a worthwhile read.

The novel opens with the murder and soon we’re introduced to Kevin Corvelli, a young criminal defense attorney who’s washed out of Manhattan and into Honolulu after a high-profile loss. Like so many malihini, Corvelli sees Hawaii as a place to reinvent himself–somewhere warm, easy and beyond the reach of the past.

Obviously, it’s a ridiculous premise, but it’s one that has served as the animating idea for many a previous novel. Happily for readers, that’s not the case here–Kevin Corvelli is sharp enough to see his own shibai right from the get-go, and soon we find ourselves in the midst of a perfectly compelling, surprisingly keenly-observed novel that is part hard-boiled crime saga, part meditation on what it means to be new to Hawaii.

Corleone’s novel is imperfect–the pacing is at times a bit uneven, and relationships between Hawaiians and haoles sometimes stretch credibility. Nowhere is this last more true than in Corvelli’s love life, which is so predictably from the school of “kamana wanna lei u” that local readers will cringe, if not boil.

Still, this is a strong book, one with the ring of authenticity. Corvelli–and by extension, author Corleone–may be new to this, but he knows it, and he’s a quick study. That Hawaii is one of the United States and yet not part of “America” is among the book’s many thoughtful motifs, and its ear for the lilt and cadence of local speech is right on.

As a crime novel, One Man’s Paradise isn’t exactly blazing new trails in the genre, but it’s inventive and active and the twists keep on coming, which is what we’re looking for in crime fiction. That, and a protagnist to believe in, and it’s on this front that the book fully delivers–Kevin Corvelli is tough, quick-witted and funny. He’s also just soft enough for us to root for–mainland mores, alligator shoes and all.