Literary / Legal thrillers and police procedurals are my not-so-guilty pleasure. But I tend to steer clear of those set in Hawaii, especially those written by offshore authors. They always get it wrong which makes me cranky. A little license with geography or even history is acceptable, but when they try to penetrate the culture, or throw in “color” to give the story a sense of place, they get the pidgin wrong. The characters are as stereotyped as the cast of the original Hawaii Five-0.
Which makes Last Lawyer Standing a pleasant surprise. Author Douglas Corleone and his lead character, Kevin Corelli, are both attorneys transplanted to Hawaii a few years ago. And, for the most part, they both get it right. (At least, the book never went flying across the bedroom as others have done.)
I’d just finished re-reading a novel by J. A. Jance; her detective protagonist, J. P. Beaumont, is a Seattle-based investigator and, since I lived there for 20 years, it is a feast of memory for me when Beaumont drops into the late-night piano bar-cum-greasy spoon where you might run into anyone from the mayor to the lowest of low-lifes (including formers from the then-nearby newspaper where I worked).
I wanted that atmosphere in Hawaii from Corleone, along with a spanking plot, and, for the most part, I got it–though he was lighter on the color than the plotting. One smart thing: He describes pidgin (the “d”s that sound like “t”s, the dropped rs, the reserved sentence construction), but doesn’t attempt to render it, much. So you know the accused, a Samoan drug dealer who may be a murderer, is speaking pidgin but it doesn’t get in the way.
And that plot? Pretty far-fetched. Corleone actually found it necessary to append a note emphasizing that the HPD he created is not the HPD of real life–not literally possessed of only one honest member with everyone else on the take. But it met my casual reading needs: characters in which one could emotionally invest, believable dialogue, a rapid-reading plot. The story’s not pretty, and perhaps reflects Oahu’s drug- and crime-sodden subculture more than Corleone meant to. But it is, as with this book, what it is.
Minotaur Books, hardcover, $24.99