By Albert Tucher – In Al Tucher’s latest Big Island Mystery, Hawai`i County police detective Errol Coutinho has his hands full from the first page. He’s called out on a homicide case and discovers the victim is his wife’s best friend, Eleanor Swieczak. He wasn’t crazy about the woman, but his wife will be devastated.
Coutinho and his partner, Harlan Kim, have a lead suspect: Eleanor’s new boyfriend, Jerry Wyatt. Not only does he have a murky past, he’s disappeared along with Eleanor’s Mercedes. Coutinho’s wife Lucy is the best crime lab technician the department has, and she really wants to dig into this one. Over the course of the story, her science and her insights about her friend prove invaluable.
Coutinho and Kim suspect a connection to the drug trade. Pakalolo—Hawaiian weed—believed by many to be the world’s finest. At the top of the island’s significant pakalolo enterprise is a well-established drug entrepreneur named Morrison, in his late middle age. If Wyatt’s involved, Morrison will know. But he seems to have cleared out too. Rumor has it that he and another drug lord—the violent but elusive Trondheim—are waging a war off the coast.
These rumors are substantiated when a body washes ashore on the once-lovely Kamilo beach. It’s now caught in the gyre of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the area’s unique currents deposit a constant stream of trash there. A volunteer cleanup crew discovered the body atop a pile of plastic garbage.
Author Tucher’s encyclopedic knowledge of the Hawaiian Islands comes constantly into play in these novels. They aren’t stories that could happen just anywhere, and he does a great job weaving the unique settings into his plots. A body on a garbagy beach is just the start. A breakneck trip down the steep and narrow road into Waipi’o Valley is enough to give you vertigo.
Was Eleanor’s death the first indication of a new drug war? Or, was her death a one-off, a car-theft gone wrong? The pieces start to look like they’ll fit together when she’s tangentially linked to the deaths of two reporters investigating the pakalolo business some twenty years earlier. The murders have started up again, and, as their investigation proceeds, Coutinho and Kim have an increasing number of bodies in the morgue that attest to the continuing trail of violence.
So, Coutinho and Kim are trying to figure out an organized crime drug smuggling operation with ties to the mainland, reopening a double homicide everyone had given up on, and, getting back to the original subject, attempting to explain the death of Lucy’s friend Eleanor.
Tucher has a knack for creating interesting characters, and may go a bit overboard here, with several sets of siblings and an improbable number of twins. Even a former wife of Coutinho’s makes an unwelcome appearance. She is, of course, a twin. Family feuds are always the worst and seeing how the several families tangled up in this story treat each other, it will make you grateful if you’re an only child.
You can read Tucher’s novels for their complicated plots or for characters you’ll come to enjoy—Coutinho and Kim are solid partners, you’ll like their boss, Lieutenant Tanaka, and a young female officer, Jenny Freitas, who “had a knack for being in the right place at the right time.”