Paradise isn't always perfect for attorney Storm Kayama. She has a habit of attracting murder and mayhem, no matter which island she visits. In "Pleasing the Dead," she runs afoul of powerful Japanese mobsters, a temper tantrum-prone client and mysterious relationships that threaten lives all up and down the social strata.
Author Deborah Turrell Atkinson brings the Hawaiian Islands to vibrant life in this latest entry in the Kayama chronicles. Set on Maui, the book takes us behind the tourist scenes and into the small towns and neighborhoods of the island. We meet grocers and contractors as well as the police officers. A number of Hawaiian foods appear throughout the story as well, whetting the reader's appetite. (I'm definitely ready to try the shave ice with hidden ice cream and azuki bean she describes on page 222.)
Kayama is a strong protagonist. Atkinson gives her a distinct personality that is fresh yet familiar at the same time. She could be your chum from high school or your next door neighbor. Her heart is for people, as evidenced by her mission to bring the little girl, Carmen, a favorite stuffed cat that was left behind when the paramedics brought her to the hospital. At the same time, she fiercely stands up to people who mean harm to those who are important to her.
The large cast of fascinating supporting characters requires attention from the reader. Many of the names are of Japanese origin. The typical reader will be able to keep them straight with a minimum of effort. You'll hate some and love others, but you will be intrigued by the interplay between them in this tense story.
The threads of Atkinson's plot weave through the story like tendrils of some exotic vine. Relationships and past histories converge and digress, but the end result is an entrancing story rich with Hawaiian lore and language. There is some rough language (the reason I gave it 4 rather than 5), but a great read.
If the weather has you wishing for a warm vacation, get "Pleasing the Dead." It's a great escape to Hawaii, a lot less expensive than air fare and no security checkpoints to face.
The beautiful island of Maui is the real star of this show. Atkinson has thoughtfully included a map to help the reader follow the action.
Although attorney Storm Kayama is the protagonist, the character that lingers in my mind is Ichiru Tagama, a Japanese gentleman of the old school who gets caught in the grip of the Japanese crime organization Yakuza. Tagama's progression from real estate tycoon to doting father to pragmatist facing reality parallels Storm's investigations into a client's proposed dive shop.
Storm has her work cut out for her. Her client, Lara, is a bit flaky. She's about to marry Tagama's son. She's on deadline to get the dive shop up and running. She wants to own the land under it, yet she shows little interest in Storm's questions and legal documents. Taking tourists out on a dive boat, she's not particular about observing the 3-mile limit from shore. She's not above baiting the water to attract sharks and give the tourists a thrill.
The whole island seems to ignore legalities. Yakuza is into property ownership and child prostitution. Everyone knows it but they turn a blind eye and are afraid to talk about it. Everyone seems to be hiding something.
Two characters who turn out to be Storm's allies are former "water girls" or child prostitutes. Their lives are also at stake when Storm's stubborn pursuit of the island's secrets almost gets her killed.
In my favorite chapter, Lara takes Storm snorkeling. Twenty to 30 feet down, the water is so clear they can see 50 feet in any direction. Storm marvels at the way they are watched by sea creatures that nevertheless go on about their business. Suddenly Lara is knocked galley-west by a four-foot, white-tipped reef shark. She's badly frightened by the attack from a shark she calls Bruce and considers to be her family totem, or protector. We will meet Bruce the shark again.
PLEASING THE DEAD is an absorbing read on several levels. There's a glossary of Hawaiian words in the back.