KONA WINDS, the début novel by Japanese-American author Scott Kikkawa, is a hard-boiled noir murder mystery set in Honolulu in 1953, when Hawai‘i was changing from a racially stratified, near-feudal plantation colony to the multi-ethnic 50th State.
Honolulu Police Department Detective Sergeant Frankie “The Sheik” Yoshikawa, a Nisei veteran of World War II, is assigned the case of a young local Japanese woman whose body is found in Honolulu Harbor under a pier. His investigation uncovers dark motives tied to a recent dock and sugar strike and a forbidden relationship between the scion of a prominent kama‘aina haole family and a young woman from a growing immigrant community.
Hindered by the limitations of race and class and haunted by the specter of his combat experiences in Europe and his resulting dependence on alcohol, Yoshikawa nonetheless resolves to bring the case to a successful conclusion.
Hawai‘i has been the setting for countless mysteries but most have been cozy mysteries or those that have featured Caucasian protagonists as outsiders in an exotic setting. KONA WINDS was written with the firm belief that Hawai‘i is more than just a pretty backdrop for the mischief of tourists: it can be, and was, a terrifying, sodden place whose social realities were ugly not so long ago and continue in some respect to go unresolved. In addition, the novel provides a glimpse into the police work of post-war Honolulu, which has been rarely written in this way before.
Scott Kikkawa is a fourth generation Japanese American and native of Hawai‘i. He is a current federal law enforcement officer who writes detective noir fiction set in postwar Honolulu of the mid-20th century. His short stories have appeared in three issues of BAMBOO RIDGE and his début novel, KONA WINDS, is set to be released as Bamboo Ridge Issue 116.
As with all of my cases, it began with a corpse—a flaccid, bloated, waterlogged corpse late on a Sunday morning. When you sought refuge in a bottle of whiskey on a Saturday night, Sunday mornings were your time to crawl out of it slowly and cautiously. I was dragged into Sunday suddenly and rudely by the telephone. Too soon to leave the past for the present.
Make no mistake: for a homicide dick, corpses were the present. The past was something you started hunting down the moment the corpse made its presence known. The future was something that was in the hands of lawyers and out of yours. I stared the present in its puffy, crab-ridden face after it had been pulled up out of Honolulu Harbor. The heavy and damp air around Pier 23 reeked of the sea and old cardboard boxes. Above the tin gables of the rusting warehouses the green peaks of the Koolau Mountains jutted up against the sky. By the time I got there I was working on my third Lucky Strike. That’s what happens when you smoke in a convertible; your cigarettes burn fast in the artificial breeze. There was no real air.
I stopped staring at the bloated face for a moment to look about. Rusting maritime junk, the kind that looked like it belonged in the muck at the bottom of Pearl Harbor, littered Pier 23. Industry’s graveyard. One old tug with a black hull and near-empty ballast bobbed on the sluggish ripples of the harbor like a balloon. Above its stern, Aloha Tower rose skyward across the water. Honolulu Harbor was like dark green glass. Striped manini and other more colorful reef fish made an occasional appearance near the surface then drifted back down into the hazy abyss.
To have Honolulu’s only Japanese American homicide detective, the fictional Francis “Sheik” Yoshikawa, follow the winding, sometimes corrupt paths of postwar Hawai‘i before its statehood is pure genius. Haunted by his military service in Europe, Yoshikawa wrestles with his personal demons and evolving political and ethnic dynamics of his hometown. Step aside Raymond Chandler; Scott Kikkawa has arrived to put a new, fresh, and more delicious spin on the noir genre. This mystery may be best enjoyed with a slice of coconut cake. All I know for sure is that I want more.
—Naomi Hirahara, author of the Edgar Award-winning Mas Arai mystery series
Scott Kikkawa’s KONA WINDS is a blast of fresh air that lets Hawai‘i’s people—both good and bad—speak for themselves in a crime narrative. Homicide detective Frankie Yoshikawa is a revelation. Only he can lead the reader through a harrowing world that is at turns tougher and more multihued than expired Spam. KONA WINDS blows past Hawaii 5-O—it goes all the way to 11!
—Ed Lin, author of the Robert Chow mystery series
Homicide detective Francis “Sheik” Yoshikawa imbibes bourbon every chance he gets, but it’s Scott Kikkawa’s readers who will be intoxicated by the intricate plot and the whirlwind ride. This noir thriller is notable for its remarkable verisimilitude, its sumptuous reconjuring of Honolulu in the early 1950s.
—Rodney Morales, author of the novels FOR A SONG and WHEN THE SHARK BITES