In novels set in Hawaii, author Robert McCaw builds an island of mysteries


Robert McCaw took his time writing his first book – 20 years, to be exact. To be fair, he was often busy working as a lawyer in New York, but says he always cobbles together a novel in his spare time.

“I started writing the first book probably in the late ’80s,” McCaw explains from the La Jolla apartment where he lives half the year. “I would write a chapter while I was on vacation or when I was on a plane. Sometimes I would write it by hand, sometimes on a computer. Gradually it became a book, but it didn’t It was only when I retired from my law practice in 2009 that I took publishing the book seriously.

Years of notes and word files were finally assembled and edited into “Death of a Messenger”. Released in 2015, the mystery novel introduced readers to Koa Kāne, a detective in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. And while Hawaii isn’t the kind of place readers might instinctively think of setting up a hard-boiled mystery novel, it’s precisely that kind of perspective that McCaw set out to dispel.

“Hawaii is a character in all four books,” says McCaw, who first visited the islands in the ’80s. ‘ve tried to incorporate things like lore and myth into books in a way that makes Hawaii real, because the PR industry and the tourism industry have spent over 50 years making it unreal It’s not just about beaches, palm trees and women in hula skirts – it’s not the real Hawaii.”

The novels, including the recently released fourth book in the series, “Treachery Times Two,” function as standard police procedural thrillers, but McCaw brings a diplomatic perspective to the mysteries of Koa Kāne. He infuses the novels with his own first-hand knowledge of criminal law from his years as a lawyer, while keeping the characters grounded in Hawaiian cultural legends, folklore, and current customs. The idea, ultimately, is to bewitch readers with the story while depicting the islands in a way that is both culturally respectful and authentic.

“When I first went there, I finally fell in love with the place for its history, geography, culture and diversity. And don’t forget he had his own language,” McCaw recalled. “As I learned and talked to people, I became very motivated to find a way to share this knowledge with other people, and that’s really where the first idea of ​​the mysteries came from. .”

McCaw presents something of a grittier side to the Hawaiian Islands through the lens of Koa Kāne, a protagonist who, without giving too much away, has his own troubling secrets and problematic past, which make him a better detective.

“That past colors every move of this detective, it motivates him, because of his guilt, to pursue murderers and to do so with vengeance,” McCaw says. “At the same time, he understands the criminal mind, and that gives him a unique perspective – being able to see a crime scene through different eyes.”

“Treachery Times Two” is perhaps the most complex and darkest of all Koa Kāne mysteries. The novel sees McCaw’s titular anti-hero not only try to solve the case of a maimed young woman, but also come to terms with his own past when a young stranger shows up on the island to inquire about the death of his grandfather. Presented in the style of a mystery within a mystery and with separate narratives that eventually come together, the novel often feels like a spy-style thriller.

“Among other things, Koa’s character has become much more complex,” McCaw explains. “There’s a lot more varied emotional qualities that come out of him in ‘Treachery Times Two,’ because what’s happening is the grandson of a man that Koa killed and covered up the crime, this little -son comes to the big island and starts asking questions.It slowly develops that this crime that Koa committed 30 years before may come to light and you get all of Koa’s reactions as the plot unfolds. expands.

In addition to Hawaii as inspiration for the novels, McCaw uses her own life and experiences to give her mysteries a sense of realism. He grew up as a “military kid”, the son of a JAG (Judge Advocate General) officer who constantly took his family on trips around the world. McGraw says he finally felt a sense of being grounded in Hawaii. He found a distinct culture there that was far more nuanced and varied than what is captured on postcards or social media. Issues such as Hawaiian sovereignty, territorialism, and the islands’ historical and current issues with mainland rulings are deftly addressed in Koa Kāne’s novels, but McGraw presents them in a way that feels neither preachy nor appropriate.

“I do a lot of research for these books. I try to make the character of Hawaii as accurate as possible,” says McCaw. “Other characters I can make up, but I want this character to be real. So if I’m describing a place, it’s real. I’ve been there and researched it.

And while McCaw says he’s already finished Koa Kāne’s fifth novel, he’s also working on another project inspired by his early days practicing law and clerking for a Supreme Court justice. For him, the journey to becoming a full-time writer has been a long one, but it can bring a lifetime of experiences.

“People ask me about research all the time,” says McCaw, “and one of my favorite expressions is that life is research. Life will continue to inspire me.

“Treachery Times Two” by Robert McCaw (Oceanview Publishing, 2022; 352 pages)

Combs is a freelance writer.


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