Valley of Refuge, the new thriller by John Teschner, starts off like a mystery. At least it was a mystery to me, with three intriguing stories evolving at once. Social media magnate Frank Dalton is doing something Big on the Big Island of Hawai`i, a woman passenger on a Hawai`i-bound airplane has completely lost her memory and doesn’t recognize the person her passport says she is, and a young Hawaiian woman, Nalani, is at risk of losing her ancestral lands, which the magnate wants.
As the stories move forward—and especially as the memory of the woman called Janice Diaz gradually returns, these strands weave into a tightly constructed, complex plot. Because the action—and Teschner packs plenty of it into the novel’s seven-day timeline—takes place almost exclusively in Hawai`i, you’re treated to elegant descriptions of the topography and plant life, the fishing and surfing, the sunsets and weather—including a cataclysmic rainstorm at the climax that will leave you feeling drenched.
Frank Dalton heads a company called Sokoni that dominates the social media world. Make that “the world.” But for someone who amassed his fortune enabling people to make connections with each other, his project in Hawai`i is the antithesis of that. He’s building a no-expense-spared refuge with the impossible goal of keeping people out.
Janice Diaz is whisked from the plane to a hospital then turned out on the street. No luggage. No reservations that she knows of. No friends or family. She has a phone, but doesn’t remember its security code. And, someone is trying to kill her.
The scenes with Nalani, her mother, and her Uncle Solomon, expert in the ways of nature, contrast starkly with Dalton’s artificial world. The Hawaiians are happy with their meager parcel, while Dalton’s multimillion dollar estate fills him with anxiety.
It takes a while for the characters’ roles in the story to shape up, and Teschner uses short chapters to bounce you from one intriguing plot point to another. The pace gradually picks up steam, acquiring such strong narrative power that the last day’s events rush forward like the storm itself.
All these characters are well realized, and I especially liked Janice Diaz, the homeless woman who helps her, Nalani, and the realtor struggling to finalize the transfer of Nalani’s family’s property. Naturally, it’s harder to warm to Dalton, with his narcissism and conviction he can control the universe, but that portrayal is effectively drawn too. Teschner uses a fair amount of the Hawaiian language—both by the Hawaiians and the whites who want to show how with-it they are—but it isn’t hard to follow. Context usually takes care of it, and he provides a handy glossary, just in case. It’s an exciting and atmospheric read. Loved it!