I’m delighted to welcome Robert McCaw with a guest post. Robert is the author of the Koa Kane Hawaiian Mystery series and his new book, Death of a Messenger, the prequel to the series, is published tomorrow.
On Hawaii Island, an anonymous 911 caller reports a body at Pohakuloa, the Army’s live-fire training area. Hilo Chief Detective Koa Kane, a cop with his own secret criminal past, finds a mutilated corpse–bearing all the hallmarks of ancient ritual sacrifice.
He encounters a host of obstacles as he pursues the murderer–an incompetent local medical examiner, hostility from both haoles (Westerners) and sovereignty advocates, and a myriad of lies. Koa races to discover whether the victim stumbled upon a gang of high-tech archaeological thieves, or learned a secret so shocking it cost him his life and put others in mortal danger.
Will Hilo’s most respected detective stop this sadistic fiend–or will the Pohakuloa killer strike again, with even deadlier consequences?
Where Do Characters Come From and Why?
Often when I fall in love with a book or a movie, it’s because some unique character sparks my imagination, which leads me to wonder how and why the author conceived them. Consider Michael Connolly’s Harry Bosch or Renée Ballard, Barry Eisler’s John Rain, and Delia Owens’s Kya Clark. I’d love to interview these authors and delve into the origins of these fictional favorites to learn to what degree they are imaginary or not. Another question I often ask myself is why the author incorporated a particular character at all. The answer is usually evident for main actors in a story but can be more subtle and elusive for secondary players.
These questions make me think of the sources for my own characters. Take, for example, Death of a Messenger, the first book in the Koa Kāne Hawaiian Mystery series to be republished with new material in January 2021. I’ll use four characters as examples—Hook Hao, a police informant, Jimmy Hikorea, an archeologist, Zeke Brown, the Hawaii County prosecutor, and last but not least, Koa Kāne, the protagonist. None of them are real people, but only one is purely fictional.
Hook Hao, my seven-foot commercial fisherman and auctioneer, is almost real. I first saw him in the 1980s at the Suisan fish market in Hilo, HI, where he ran the daily fish auction. The scene where I first introduce him is as factual and as accurate as my memory could recall. From there, I made up his fictional backstory and role in the mysteries unfold at the heart of Death of a Messenger. Hook isn’t just a fascinating persona in the book. His position auctioneering near the Hilo docks creates a nexus of contact with a diverse array of people, from sailors to fishermen to local clientele. He thus becomes a perfect conduit for secrets, making him valuable as a police informant. Hook also serves another purpose. As a native Hawaiian, he is brimming with Hawaiian lore, adding insights into the history and culture of the island’s people.
Jimmy Hikorea, a federal archeologist, on the other hand, is entirely imaginary. Because the novel delves into the unique lives and mysterious disappearance of the Hawaiian adze tool makers, I needed a voice to relate aspects that history. As a former marine who lost both legs and normal vocal abilities in a friendly-fire accident, Jimmy navigates life from his wheelchair and speaks with an artificial squeak. As one might imagine, he has great antipathy for the Army he deems responsible for his injuries and so is in constant conflict with the story’s military characters.
Zeke Brown, the Hawaii County prosecutor, is a composite character. In my many years as a defense attorney in various government and enforcement proceedings, both civil and criminal, I met many prosecutors, federal agents, and other persons in law enforcement. Many of these situations were adversarial, and thus of necessity, I studied their tactics and interpreted their mindsets. Zeke borrows his mannerisms, attitude, language, and tactical approach from the many varied local, state, and federal law enforcers I encountered over my legal career. Moreover, Zeke serves to further several plot lines in the story. Contrary to some popular fiction, detectives pursuing significant cases do, in fact, work in partnership with prosecutors. The preparation and securing of search and arrest warrants are common examples. Zeke also serves to counterbalance the overly political police chief to whom chief detective Koa Kāne reports.
Finally, there is Koa Kāne, the detective protagonist. As a semi-autobiographical character, we share more than a few qualities. Both of us served in the military, neither of us cares much for politicians, and both are confirmed foodies. We are also devoted to our professions, deeply respectful of women, and have a generally positive outlook on life. Although neither of us is perfect, unlike Koa, I did not kill my father’s nemesis in a wild teenage rage! That back story of Koa’s enduring remorse explains his unwavering determination to pursue justice. I am also not of Hawaiian heritage, but I created Koa as a native Hawaiian character to share my fascination and respect for the Hawaiian people, history, culture, and language.
These characters reappear in the other books of the Koa Kāne Hawaiian mystery series. So, if I’ve piqued your interest just a little, check out Off the Grid and Fire and Vengeance, available now on Amazon and other booksellers, and Treachery Times Two, to be published in January 2022.
About the Author
Robert McCaw is the author of Fire and Vengeance, Off the Grid, and Death of a Messenger. McCaw grew up in a military family, traveling the world. He is a graduate of Georgetown University, served as a U.S. Army lieutenant, and earned a law degree from the University of Virginia. He was a partner in a major international law firm in Washington, D.C. and New York City, representing major Wall Street clients in complex civil and criminal cases. Having lived on the Big Island of Hawaii, McCaw imbues his writing of the Islands with his more than 20-year love affair with this Pacific paradise. He now lives in New York City with his wife, Calli.