A veteran journalist tries his hand at pulp crime

Literary / In detective fiction circles, the name of neophyte author Charley Memminger may never have the same ring as those of Clive Cussler or John D. MacDonald. That said, Memminger’s first novel, Aloha, Lady Blue, reads like the love-child of these two specimens of tropical-flavored crime, with a bit of Honolulu’s TV sleuth Thomas Magnum thrown in. Which isn’t a bad thing: In genre writing, after all, a little imitation is often half the fun.

Mixing Hawaiian history with a mystery involving deep underground organized crime syndicates, dirty cops, secret Chinese societies, ginchy Russian lesbians and a self-serving, seductive Punahou grad, Lady Blue, while no literary endeavor, makes for a rapid beach read–right down to the Hawaiian Tropics aftertaste.

When Wai Lo Fat, an elderly Chinese land developer, is found dead in a few feet of taro field water at his Kahala home, his alluring granddaughter Amber Kam calls upon her fellow Pun classmate and hermitic ex-Honolulu Journal crime reporter, Stryker McBride. A somewhat numb-to-the-world, lackadaisical wise-ass who could have profited from more character development, McBride (his houseboat, in homage to MacDonald’s hero, is named “Travis McGee”) sniffs around, discovering layer upon layer of deep Chinese-Hawaiian secrets.

Memminger mixes the local-based, self-deprecating humor found in his former Star-Bulletin “Honolulu Lite” column and his experience as a crime reporter. Aloha, Lady Blue is funny. It paints a sardonic, if not always accurate, view of Hawaii society from the perspective of a haole who’s been here longer than many kamaaina.

Bland as McBride, the narrator, proves at times, he’s happily accompanied by a slew of memorable characters. Auntie Kealoha, the dear, sweet, ruthless, old lady queen of organized crime; Tiny Maunakea, her 400-pound Hawaiian assistant with a Victorian turn of speech; Blue Hookane, McBride’s Shaft-ian ex-cop, surf pal co-detective; and Amber Kam–who probably looks exactly like Tia Carrere–all do important service to the novel. But it can’t be denied that the main character in Aloha, Lady Blue, as illustrated throughout with sometimes-tangential history lessons, is Oahu, and her dysfunctional geographic, government and social structures.

Memminger, with his keen eye and smart perspective on the inner workings of the underbelly of Hawaiian politics and culture, may have arrived at the right time to fill the much-bemoaned void in grittily authentic, seedy Hawaii-based detective crime fiction. St. Martin’s Minotaur Books has scheduled a sequel for 2014.

Aloha, Lady Blue

Charley Memminger

Minotaur/St. Martin’s Press, Jan. 2013

Hardcover, 320 pages, $24.99