splintered-paddle-140The Splintered Paddle
(An Ava Rome Mystery)
by Mark Troy (Thailand 1972–75)
Five Star
301 pages
June 2014
$25.95 (paperback), $3.19 (Kindle)

Reviewed by Bob Cochrane (Morocco 1981-83)

It’s always a great bonus in any novel to find that you’ve not only been introduced to new characters and new situations, but also to a new place. For some reason the hard-boiled detective genre seems especially well suited to the portrayal of place. I suppose it’s because most PI’s are of a place. They’re not your quintessential ramblers. They manage their livelihoods by knowing a place as only someone at home there can. And they have to deal with all the strata of society. They deal in good guys and bad guys who are equally at home there. They speak the language of their place, both by region and by social tribe.

Good mystery writers draw on the language of a place to make you feel you’ve lived there a while. For Mark Troy, the place is Hawaii. And his latest Ava Rome mystery is called The Splintered Paddle. Its Amazon release date is June 18, and if that’s not a hint it’s a summer read, then let the palms of Waikiki guide you straight to a beach chair.

The title comes from Kānāwai Māmalahoe, or Law of the Splintered Paddle, a 1797 dictum of  King Kamehameha I, meant to guarantee protection to the defenseless. It stated, “Let every elderly person, woman and child lie by the roadside in safety.” The law provides the symbol in the center of the Honolulu police badge-two crossed paddles.

By nature PI Ava Rome believes that King Kamehameha I had it figured right. Protecting the defenseless is what she’s all about. As a character, her wise-cracking, alcohol-and-Vicodin, and oft-beaten self isn’t all that different from any of the guy private eyes you’ve ever read, except, well, she’s a woman. She’s pretty middle pew on the topic of prostitution, but when a gorgeous street-sider turns up on her doorstep, splintered paddle in hand (although this last bit is possibly the product of a healthy wish-fulfillment fantasy), Ava is out to play Wonder Woman.

There’s also a pesky young girl called Cassie Sands. (Note subtle beach-read signal.) Basically she’s there to torment Ava and by extension the rest of us. At one point Ava has about five different attackers on her trail and she suddenly remembers that it is exactly the hour when she’s promised to give the little pest a driving lesson. So yes, she stops in the middle of the gunfight at OK corral and promptly finds herself with a scratched rear fender.

The main antagonist is a real plodder. He’s harbored revenge in prison for a decade, but, luckily for the reader, once freed he strings out his torture in the tried-and-true plot technique that essentially avoids ending a book on page three, or a movie in a-minute-and-a-half. Otherwise he could have arrived in Honolulu, taken a taxi to her flat, and killed her then and there. But with deliciously psychological torture, it’s better drizzled along the story.

Personally I like Moon, the mainstay got-your-back, with the odd grammar and decisive mind.

As with any genre mystery, we need to approach it like a carnival ride. This isn’t meant to be great character development, grand visions or a refined narrative architecture. This is straight ahead action with one twist after another, lots of bad guys, a few really bad guys, and a few really good guys, all locked and loaded.

Bob Cochrane (Morocco 1981-83) has written five novels under the pen name RJ Huddy. His most recent Twisting Creek mystery is Big Charlene’s Weight-Loss Supper Club and Taxi Dancing..