Hokolua Road, by Elizabeth Hand book review

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Who should claim a Hawaiian paradise? The locals, the residents? Tourists paying a pretty penny? Or the animals that cried there first?

It’s a question Aloha State has long wrestled with, and it’s the beating heart of Elizabeth Hand’s new thriller, “Hokuloa Road.”

The book opens at a time that no one would call paradise: the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Time may have thawed, but the life of 28-year-old Grady Kendall in rural Maine has frozen. A carpenter and former EMT, his job opportunities have gone cold, his love life is freezing, and a ghost from his past still sends shivers down the spine. Living with his mother while his brother is in a halfway house, Grady is looking for just about anything else.

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So when his brother sends him a Craigslist ad for a caretaker residing on a billionaire’s posh Hawaiian island property, Grady applies — and gets it. Wes Minton, hedge funder-turned-conservative, Zooms Grady in the middle of the night, asks if he’s ever had an appendectomy, points out he has to arrive alone and barely checks his background: But rich people are eccentric, right ?

Warning flags fly, but Grady heads for a fictional Hawaiian island anyway. On the plane, he calms his nerves by chatting with UCLA graduate student Jessica Kiyoko, who is shocked to be heading for the notoriously treacherous Hokuloa Road and all the land Minton has turned into a private wildlife refuge. “You hear a lot of stories about this place. Ghost stories – you know, like the spirit dog on the road to Hana. Or the Choking Ghosts, and the Nightmarchers. Grady – without any knowledge of Hawaiian folklore (Nightmarchers, huaka’i po, are the ghosts of ancient Hawaiian warriors) – sure she’s kidding. She certainly isn’t.

It will take him a while to learn the mythology – and it’s a wonderful crash course for readers – but what he soon realizes is that the Hawaii that welcomes him isn’t the surf movie. of his dreams. The caretaker who replaced, Dalita Nakoa, does not present an orchid or point out any natural wonders when she picks him up. Instead, she tells Grady about human bones sticking out of coral reefs and shows him homeless people on meth, nearly empty hotels and grocery stores, and an abandoned bunker, one of its walls painted with the names. of the missing. “People are disappearing here,” she warns. And that’s in the good times. These times are anything but. A year earlier, the island had nearly 300,000 tourists in July. The month Grady arrives, the number is down to a thousand. Is the island better off if left to the locals? From what Grady sees, not if the townspeople can’t afford to survive.

But life is still good for Wes Minton. He inherited his vast volcanic land and was going to turn the almost inaccessible peninsula into a luxury resort, but seems content to roar in his Tesla watching the birds, like a secretive, wealthy boy scout. He shows Grady his huge tank full of umbrella sea urchins that will quickly kill you, and his private aviary full of rare species, but doesn’t give him much else to do before he disappears. Somehow, Grady keeps his New England chill — until he starts encountering the supernatural, the animals, the spirits that Jessie had mentioned.

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Jet lag and booze in his veins, Grady sees a huge dog with human eyes take on shocking shapes. Shortly after, he hears something, or someone, screaming on the shore below the cliffs. The question of what’s real and what’s imagined rocks Grady to the core – and will rock the whole story – but it’s when he emerges from his forties that the real shock comes. Jessica Kiyoko, the girl on the plane, has disappeared. Suddenly, he senses his goal in Hawaii: to find Jessie, to understand why people are disappearing.

The search is on, and the second half of the book kicks into the high gear thriller fans have been waiting for.

To describe Elizabeth Hand as a novelist is to have not read another Elizabeth Hand book. Over the decades, she’s proven herself to be eclectic, versatile, and at home in fantasy and mystery, crime, myth, magic – and more. In “Hokuloa Road,” she explores Hawaii’s rich and diverse culture and environment – and seamlessly weaves this fascinating material into a missing girl story. It’s refreshing and frightening to begin with.

Karin Tanabe is the author of five books, most recently “A woman of intelligence.”

Mulholland Books. 401 pages. $28

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