****The Place of Refuge

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photo: Emilia, creative commons license

By Al Tucher – This 160-page novella takes great advantage of its setting on the Big Island of Hawai`i. For those who’ve visited the islands (or wanted to), this is a low-cost, no-jet-lag trip full of adventure.

For some time, Detective Errol Coutinho of the Hawai`i County Police and his partner, Detective Kim, have been on the trail of a serial killer of prostitutes. The murders stopped for a period of months, but now a Filipino hotel maid has discovered what appears to be the renewal of working-girl carnage. They need a decoy.

On the island of Oahu, undercover police officer Jessie Hokoana of the Honolulu Police Department is working to expose a major drug dealer, getting close to him and gaining his confidence using the oldest trick in the book. Jessie grew up on the Big Island, daughter of the owner of a small Korean barbeque place and Hosea Hokoana, an enormous Hawaiian man who feared nothing and no one, except perhaps Jessie’s mother. Hosea decamped from the family twenty years ago, when Jessie was young.

Jessie’s investigative target and boyfriend, Teddy Dias, is persuaded to go to Mexico to try to make a marijuana-supply deal with the leader of a Mexican cartel. Pakalolo—nicknamed Kona Gold or Puna Butter—could be supplied by Teddy and fed into the Mexicans’ distribution network. He takes Jessie with him. She agrees, mainly because she’s heard about a cage fighter there whom she believes may be her father.

In Hawai`i the police can give her only minimal protection, but in Mexico, none at all. And when the hoped-for drug deal goes south, only her father can save her. If he realizes who she is. If he wants to.  The story of Jessie’s family, especially of Hosea and his return to Hawaiian society and the consequences of that, ultimately involving Coutinho and Kim, predominate in the story.

This book provides a great flavor for the rich multi-cultural society in Hawai’i. Coutinho’s ancestors were Portuguese, while Kim is Korean; their boss, Tanaka, is Japanese. Jessie is half Hawaiian and half Anglo. In author Tucher’s hands, these characters are interesting and unique individuals, not bending to stereotype.

There’s also humor in the book, especially among the detectives. Tucher resolves the big plot questions, but not the human relationship questions, which is probably more realistic than an excessively tidy ending and holds the door open for further installments, which will be as welcome as a trip to the islands!

Beach Reads for Shark Week!

shark, graffiti

photo: Alexis LêQuôc, creative commons license

We’re in the middle of Shark Week, and it’s prime season for heading to the shore. Beach vacations deserve beach reads. If you read the true story Close to Shore, you may decide to get your excitement sitting under an umbrella with your book and a piña colada, leaving the swimming to others. Even if it’s a staycation this year, these authors will leave you feeling sand in your shoes.

  • Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916 by Michael Capuzzo – from before New Jersey’s sharks congregated at the state house—reportedly an inspiration for Jaws
  • Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard – a West Palm Beach/Miami stewardess tries to secure her fortune ahead of the Feds and the mob—made into the film Jackie Brown
  • Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen – down in the Florida Keys, Hiaasen’s typically hilarious collection of oddballs comes together after a faked auto accident
  • The Dogs of Winter by Kem Nunn – northern California surfing legends and an unsolved murder
  • Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon – sheer craziness with SoCal beach-dweller and P.I. Doc Sportello, who works in a marijuana haze with a 60s soundtrack—the movie is impenetrable
  • The House Without a Key by Earl Derr Biggers – 1920s Hawai`i, Charlie Chan, and the murder of a proper Bostonian—an old-fashioned classic
  • The Place of Refuge by Al Tucher – the dangerous assignments for two Hawaiian police detectives converge
  • The Beach by Alex Garland – a tourist searches for Thailand’s “perfect” beach in this suspenseful tale; his mistake may be finding it

Or, if you’re into real sharks, you can name a shark, track a tagged shark’s meanderings, and see where tagged sharks have been hanging out recently (orange dots). GPS tags ping when the dorsal fin breaks the ocean’s surface.

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(photo: Nico Cavallotto, Creative Commons)

 

*****Ghost Fleet

navy ships, ghost fleet

America’s “ghost fleet” (photo: Ingrid Taylar, creative commons license)

By P. W. Singer and August Cole – This gripping thriller about what the next world war might look like has captured the attention of Washington policymakers and defense industry insiders alike. Singer is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan Washington, D.C., think tank, and Cole is a former defense industry reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

Unlike so many other speculative fiction outings, this one is based on technologies already plausibly “in the works,” and the authors provide 374 endnotes to backstop the action and interfere with readers’ ability to sleep peacefully at night. Ghost Fleet is a novel of the post-Snowden world, in which the techniques the U.S. National Security Agency used on others are turned back against the Americans.

The story begins at the International Space Station. Russia and China have declared war against the United States, and a U.S. Air Force Colonel, on a disastrously timed space-walk, becomes the unwitting point of the spear. Oblivious to the political developments taking place on the blue globe spinning below, he finds the ISS reentry hatches sealed against him. “Goodbye, my friend. I am truly sorry. It is orders,” says his Russian cosmonaut colleague.

It’s the initial action in a war fought not solely, but significantly, in cyberspace. Takeover of the ISS enables the analogous Chinese space station, Tiangong-3, to systematically knock out every communications satellite that U.S. armed forces depend on. It soon becomes apparent that not only the satellites are down, all local-area communications networks are compromised, because military suppliers have been using low-cost Chinese-made computer chips in their planes, ships, and communications equipment by the unidentifiable thousands, and these chips are insecure, tiny moles. Only the mothballed planes and ships destined for the scrapyard–the Ghost Fleet–are now safe: “The 707 passenger-jet derivatives did not have a modern chip anywhere, unlike the new KC-46s, which had turned out to be missile magnets like all the other Chinese-chipped gear.” This new top-to-bottom vulnerability of the military, which has become overly confident in the security of its communications systems, shows in brilliant and devastating relief.

This is a multiple point-of-view novel, with short scenes from many locations involving numerous protagonists, though most of the action takes place in the Pacific, San Francisco, and Hawaii, where “The Directorate”—comprising Chinese military, along with Russian elements under their command—has established an important outpost. At the story’s heart are the trials of the USS Zumwalt, an oddly designed, mothballed ship recalled into action after much of the modern U.S. fleet is destroyed—again at Pearl Harbor. The Zumwalt’s newly appointed captain, Jamie Simmons, is challenged militarily and by relations with his estranged father, retired chief petty officer Mike Simmons. Like the vintage tin cans—seagoing and aerial—rescued for the U.S. counterattack, retired military personnel are called back into service, and by some inevitable cosmic sense of humor or irony, Mike is assigned to the Zumwalt.

Other principal characters include: a Hawaiian woman working as a freelance assassin who is tracked by the omnipresent surveillance drones and a live Russian operative; a small team of surviving Marine insurgents harassing the Chinese forces on Oahu; a Russian who attempts to aid the Americans and ends up in a neuroscience laboratory nightmare; Sun-Tzu-spouting Admiral Wang, captain of the Chinese battleship Admiral Zheng He; and a wealthy Brit-turned-space-privateer. Other non-state players also emerge, providing a level of DIY unpredictability.

The epigrams for the several parts of the book come from Sun-Tzu’s advice to warriors, and the one for Part 3 is “All warfare is based on deception.” The levels of deception between the Chinese and Russian “allies,” between the antagonists, and arising from the inability to rely on secure communications is paranoia-inducing. Meanwhile, the roles of drones and robots escalate, which is great when they’re yours.

If you are a fan of techno-thrillers, like I am, this novel is the ultimate: fast-paced, high stakes, well-grounded, and, one may hope, consequential. International readers may be disappointed that the book is so US-centric—a casualty of “write what you know” or a realization that there’s already so much going on, we have to stop somewhere?! The book doesn’t come to a too-tidy conclusion, either, and that is also sadly realistic. The authors use it to explore in a vivid way what might happen and what we should be thinking about before it comes to pass.