Hawaiian Noir

Murder Calls

Last night, I was privileged to attend a high school graduation—my first since my granddaughter’s graduation three years ago. Graduation ceremonies, with their age-old rituals, give us an opportunity to reflect on what we hold dear. They are a celebration of young people and their accomplishments as they start on their journey into the future. Four hundred thirty-three young men and women put on their regalia and walked the stage in front of cheering friends and family,

Lat night’s valedictorian was a young man of impressive credentials. He graduated summa cum laude, meaning his grade point average was higher than 4.0. He wore the gold stole signifying his status, along with some extra cords indicating his leadership in several school organizations. He is heading to college on an academic scholarship. The young man clearly deserved all of the plaudits lavished on him. It was clear, also, that his family, which has supported him throughout his life, deserved some of the credit for his achievements. That is not to take anything away from the young man. It is how things should be.

I’ve heard other valedictorian addresses. This young man’s address hit all the right notes and the usual themes, but it was not a remarkable speech. I don’t think much of it will be remembered. He began by talking about his first day of high school four years ago, in August 2019, as the starting point of the four year journey taken by him and his classmates. What he missed was that all of his classmates didn’t take the same journey.

I was there at the invitation of a young woman who was graduating that night, who was sitting with the rest of her classmates, wearing her cap and gown, but with none of the stoles or cords to show her achievements. The speaker talked about the confusion of that first day of high school—finding their lockers, figuring out their schedules, meeting teachers and classmates. It was not something the young woman could relate to. On, or about, that day, this young woman found herself abandoned on a ranch in a foreign country, where she knew no one, did not speak the language, and did not understand the culture. She had arrived there after fleeing violence and unrest in her native country, after an arduous trek through three nations, and after spending time in ICE detention on the Texas border. The adult who had accompanied her, left no provisions for her welfare. While the other kids who would later be her classmates worried about finding lockers, she worried about surviving.

Fortunately for her, she came to the attention of Child Protective Services who placed her with a family of her own nationality. The next year she entered high school as a freshman, still not speaking English. She took a demanding load of courses which were taught in a foreign language. She worked hard, mastered the content of the courses and the language in which they were presented, and graduated in three years instead of the usual four, She earned a high grade point average that was just shy of the number that would allow her to wear a stole. The rigors or studying and the demands of a job she held in her senior year left no time for school organizations. She will be taking college courses in the summer in order to get a head start on her post-secondary plans. While other graduates are wearing their accomplishments around their necks, she wears hers inside.

This morning I learned a new word that was bestowed upon this graduate by her foster family. Tayacan. It is a Nicaraguan idiom meaning brave, daring, hard-working, and vivacious. Bravo Tayacan girl. I’m proud of you.

Splintered Loyalty is the new Ava Rome mystery from Down and Out Books. It was published May 8, 2023. You can order it directly from the publisher or from Amazon. It is available in trade paperback or in several ebook formats. Here’s the cool thing. If you order the paperback from the publisher, you will get the ebooks with it.

When I arrived at the University of Hawai‘i in 1977, one of the first people I met was a fellow graduate student named Rosie Tatsuguchi. We had the same advisor, shared an office for a short time, and worked on several projects together. We became good friends. Rosie was about 10 or 12 years older than me. Her family were Buddhist missionaries. Her father and mother had immigrated to Hawai‘i to establish a Jodo Shinshu mission temple. Rosie’s older brother had taken it over at the time I met her. The temple, the Shinshu Kyokai Mission of Hawai‘i is located on Beretania Street in Honolulu. Mary Fran and I, and friends from graduate school, would take part in Bon Dances there during July at Rosie’s invitation. The temple still stands and, when I went by it in 2021, Roland Tatsuguchi, Rosie’s brother, was still listed on the door as the minister.

Shinshu Kyokai Mission, August 21,2021

One day Rosie told me this story.

Her father came home from the temple every evening at the same time. He expected, on his arrival, to see the food on the table and the family—Rosie, her mother, her older brothers, and her sister—in their places at the table. One day the expected time came and went and the reverend didn’t show. Everybody waited in their place. Nobody touched the food because, as head of the household, father got the first rice. The date was December 7, 1941. Rosie was five or six at the time. The family remained at the table through the night, not touching the food even though they were hungry. They slept in their places at the table. In the morning, they learned that the reverend had been arrested while helping clear rubble from a building that had been bombed. He was one of many Japanese community leaders who were rounded up and incarcerated that day. He was later sent to one of the War Relocation camps and the family did not see him again until after the war.

That image of the family dutifully waiting for their father stayed with me and it became the inspiration for Splintered Loyalty. In the prologue, we meet a young Japanese woman, Akiko, waiting for her husband, the Reverend Harry Miyazaki, to come home from the temple. Like Rosie’s family, she waits through the night. There are some differences between Akiko’s story and Rosie’s story. In the first place, there are no children in Akiko’s story. She and Harry are newly married and Akiko has been in the country for only a few months. Another difference is the date. Akiko’s story opens on February 20, 1942, the day after FDR signed Executive Order 9066 which called for the removal of all people of Japanese ancestry from the western United States and confinement in concentration camps in violation of their civil rights.

Rosie’s statement that, “As head of the household, father got the first rice,” conveys so much meaning about the family, the culture, and the era, that I remember it after all these years. In Akiko’s story, that sentence became, “As husband, Harry got the first rice.” Splintered Loyalty went through 18 drafts before publication. I think that sentence is probably the only sentence remaining intact from the first draft.

Pearl Harbor is a popular attraction for visitors to Honolulu, and rightly so, because the lives that were lost and others that were disrupted need to be remembered and honored. But there are other places in Honolulu that I call the hidden history of the attack. Such places as the Shinshu Kyokai mission which has a very poignant story behind it. If you visit Honolulu, by all means visit Pearl Harbor, but immerse yourself in the history and keep alert for other locations that carry other memories of that time.

Publication date is just around the corner. The book is available for pre-order now from Down and Out Books.

I’m excited to tell you that Splintered Loyalty is featured in the May issue of The Big Thrill, the magazine of The International Thriller Writers. You can read the interview here.

You can read the full issue of The Big Thrill here.

Drum roll please: Here is the cover for Splintered Loyalty from Down & Out Books. The publication date is May 6, 2023.

I really like this cover because it contains a lot of the story elements. Most of the story is set in Hawai‘i and features Honolulu private eye Ava Rome, thus the Hawaiian flowers. Ava is hired to solve a cold case—the death of a Japanese-American Buddhist priest in an internment camp during World War II. The barbed wire symbolizes that part. At the time of his arrest, the priest was trying to solve the murder of a Japanese-American teenager on the eve of the Pearl Harbor attack. We see a Japanese warplane and a photo of Pearl Harbor from around that time. The story brings together past and present as shown in the use of color and black and white. Overall, I’m pleased with it.

This is the second novel in the Ava Rome series. The book will be available as an ebook and paperback.

The first time I heard the term, “Hawaiian noir,” was in reference to a 1954 movie, Hell’s Half Acre. Filmed in Black and White, the movie tells the story of a woman whose husband was listed as MIA at Pearl Harbor. She goes to Honolulu to find him. In reality, he was an ex-racketeer who changed his name to hide his criminal activities. He is being blackmailed by his former criminal partners, who come gunning for him and his wife. The man’s girlfriend kills one of the ex-partners, for which he takes the blame. The story is set mostly in and around the dark alleys of Honolulu’s Chinatown. 

As far as I can tell, that was the first time the term “Hawaiian noir” was used. However, there have been murder mysteries set in Hawai‘i prior to this movie, most notably the Charlie Chan stories. Charlie Chan is the creation of Earl Derr Biggers who visited Honolulu in 1919 and got the idea for the character. He published the first novel, The House Without a Key in 1925. Five more books followed, as did movies, more than thirty in all. 

Biggers conceived of Chan as an affable Chinese alternative to the “yellow peril” characters such as Fu Manchu who were popular at the time. Chan is known for his intelligence, his family devotion, and the aphorisms he frequently spouts. Are the Chan stories “noir?” They tend to have happy endings with Chan’s theories of the crime being vindicated. However, they are not cozy mysteries either. Chan has to deal with hardened criminals and with violence, often in places that most people would view as dangerous and threatening. Chan is not an amateur sleuth, but a police detective with a certain amount of cynicism about human nature. I think the Charlie Chan stories, while not “noir,” represent an important stop on the hardboiled mystery road.

Bad alibi like dead fish—cannot stand test of time. Charlie Chan in Panama (1940)

It’s another ‘Ukulele Wednesday. Today’s song is a fun number from the Ka‘au Crater Boys called Opihi Man

My rendition of the song can be found here: https://youtu.be/6ISTfpQ2Wp0

If you are not familiar with opihi, they are a Hawaiian delicacy. A type of limpet, they cling to rocks. They are made up of a very hard shell, inside of which, is a creature with a big sucker foot. Here is an article on preparing the opihi. https://onolicioushawaii.com/opihi/.

Harvesting opihi is done by opihi pickers or opihi men. It’s a dangerous job as it requires getting out on rocks in the surf with a knife to pry the little suckers loose. Pickers occasionally lose their lives picking. Thus the warning in the song: “Keep your eye on the wave, don’t ever turn your back.” A good lesson for all of us.

Aloha until next Wednesday.

Election season in Texas means we are bombarded by political ads telling us that crime is on the rise, that our borders are porous, and that, whether stated explicitly or by implication, the two are related. 

Is crime really on the rise? The violent crime rate in the US reached an historic high in 1991 (758/100,000) and has declined precipitously since. By 2014, the rate had been cut in half (370/100,000—51%). Since that year it has increased slightly to where, in 2021, it was 47% of the peak (400/100,000). So yes, it is on the rise, but not as political ads would have us believe.

Is unauthorized immigration on the rise? In 1990, an estimated 3.5 million unauthorized immigrants lived in the United States. That number reached a peak of 12.2 million in 2007 and has declined to 11.4 million in 2018. So, during the same period that crime decreased by roughly 50%, unauthorized immigration rose by 71%. 

Is there a relationship between crime and unauthorized immigration? It has long been known that the crime rate among immigrants is about half the rate of crime among native born citizens, only reaching parity in the third generation. But what about unauthorized immigrants? Are they rapists, murderers, and drug dealers as Trump asserted? No. That was an egregious lie. A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined the crime rate in Texas among native-born citizens, legal immigrants, and undocumented immigrants during the years 2012 to 2018. (https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2014704117).

The authors summarize: “Contrary to public perception, we observe considerably lower felony arrest rates among undocumented immigrants compared to legal immigrants and native-born US citizens and find no evidence that undocumented criminality has increased in recent years. Our findings help us understand why the most aggressive immigrant removal programs have not delivered on their crime reduction promises and are unlikely to do so in the future.”(emphasis mine.) More specifically, “Relative to undocumented immigrants, US-born citizens are over 2 times more likely to be arrested for violent crimes, 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes, and over 4 times more likely to be arrested for property crimes. In addition, the proportion of arrests involving undocumented immigrants in Texas was relatively stable or decreasing over this period.” 

While crime was rising, the rate of crime remained flat among immigrants. It was among the native-born US citizens in Texas that a rise in crime was observed. Texas has spent billions on border security programs ostensibly to reduce crime, to no effect because the migrants that the programs target are not criminals. 

Texas has spent a lot of tax-payer money to bus migrants to cities such as Boston, Chicago, and New York, so called “sanctuary cities” in blue states. In MAGA-speak, this stunt “owns the libs,” whatever the hell that means. Those cities to which Texas is sending non-criminals, have lower than average crime rates already. An influx of unauthorized immigrants will mean a net increase in safety in those cities and a net decrease in Texas (https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/crime-rate-by-state, https://www.thirdway.org/report/the-red-state-murder-problem).

I can’t say this strongly enough: The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, is using a vile, inhumane ploy to screw Texas and Texans. Immigrants make us safer. Greg Abbott makes us unsafe.


Here we are, another ‘Ukulele Wednesday. Today happens to be Mary Fran’s birthday, so I have two songs for today. Listen to them here. The first is Las Mañanitas. This is a birthday song that is popular in Mexico and Central America. Here are the lyrics:

Estas son las mañanitas

Que cantaba el rey David

Hoy por ser tu cumpleaños

Te las cantamos a ti

Despierta mi bien despierta

Mira que ya amanecio

Ya los pajarillos cantan

La luna ya se metio

The second song is He Wahine U‘i

The song was written by Johnny Almeida, one of the greatest Hawaiian composers and performers. During Almeida’s career spanning more than 70 years, he composed over 300 songs, many of which are classics in the Hawaiian genre. His mother gave birth to him while gathering maile vines to make leis. She was not able to clean her hands of the toxic maile sap before birthing him. The sap affected his eyesight and he was totally blind from the age of ten. Almeida was inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame in 1998.

Almeida loved flowers and women. In He Wahina U‘i, he simply says over and over, here are some beautiful flowers for you, beautiful lady. He names the lokelani (rose), the mokihana (the official flower of Kaua‘i), the kukui or candlenut flower, and the ilima. He promises to make leis of each of them for the beautiful lady.

Diamond Head (Kaimana Hila) at sunrise.

For today’s ‘Ukulele Wednesday, we go to the island of O‘ahu to the majestic crater of Diamond Head, also known as Kaimana Hila. The island of O‘ahu is about 3.5 million years old. Diamond Head is believed to have last erupted about 200,000 years ago. The Hawaiians called the crater Leahi, which means the brow of the tuna, because that’s what it looks like in profile. This view is looking east from our condo in the Colony Surf. In the lower center of the photo you can see Dillingham Fountain. To the left you can see part of Kapiolani Park. Not seen in this photo is Waikiki, which is behind us.

Diamond Head, or Diamond Hill, got its name when British sailors found what they thought were diamonds on the slope. In fact, what they found was volcanic glass called olivine. The Hawaiians were unable to pronounce Diamond Hill. The Hawaiian language has few hard consonants like ‘D’ so most hard consonants are heard and pronounced as ‘K.’ Another feature of Hawaiian is that all syllables end in a vowel. Thus, the ‘d’ becomes ‘k’ and ‘a’ is affixed to the end, so ‘diamond’ is pronounced ‘kaimana.’ The same applies to the word ‘hill.’ The ‘i’ is pronounced ‘ee’ and ’a’ is added at the end. Kaimana Hila.

So here is the song, Kaimana Hila, written by Charles E. King and Andrew Cummings.

I am performing this on Mary Fran’s Kamaka Standard ‘ukulele, which she won as a door prize at a concert by the group NUE at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center in June.

Kaimana Hila lyrics

I wahou makou ika po nei

A‘ike i ka nani Kaimana Hila

Kaimana Hila, kau mai i luna

I waho makou i Waikiki ea

A‘ike i ka nani papa he‘e nalu

Papa he‘e nalu he‘ehe‘e malie

I waho makou i Kapi‘olani Paka

A‘ike i ka nani lina poepoe

Lina poepoe, ho‘oluhi kino

Ha‘ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana

A‘ike i ka nani Kaimana Hila

Kaimana Hila, kau mai i luna

We went out last night

To see the grandeur of Diamond Head

Diamond Head, so majestic.

We went to Waikiki

And looked with wonder at all

The riders of the surf gliding swiftly.

We went to Kapiolani Park

And saw the circular racetrack

Tire of the horse races and gambling.

And now my song is ended

repeat first verse.

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