The Dark Side of Paradise
Neil Plakcy writes a mystery series about an unusual detective in an unusual place: Kimo Kanapa’aka is an openly gay crime-solver, a surfer who trolls the dark side of paradise on the island of O’ahu.
His latest book is NATURAL PREDATORS, with Kimo fighting to bring the killer of an island patrician to justice while protecting his partner and their foster son — and preparing to become a father himself.
PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY praised the series, writing, “Engrossing … a sharp whodunit,” while the HONOLULU ADVERTISER said, “Spotless pace, intriguing plots twists, and an earnest depiction of challenges faced by people transitioning out of the closet.”
Neil Plakcy recently agreed to answer some questions for the BigThrill:
With so many books in the series now, how has your hero changed and grown from the first novel to the latest?
The Mahu Investigations track the coming-out process of Honolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka. In the first book, he is dragged out of the closet while investigating a case. At the time, I didn’t realize it was going to become a series – but he kept talking to me, even though I didn’t sell that first book for a few years.
Kimo went through several stages – beginning to make gay friends and understanding what it meant to be part of a community, then meeting a boyfriend and falling in love. Then the inevitable breakup and despair, followed by an angst-laden reunion. Then he and his partner moved in together, creating a household filled with testosterone and a whole new set of issues. And now, as many gay men of their generation are, they are creating a family—first with a teenaged foster son, and now, in NATURAL PREDATORS, by becoming sperm donors to a lesbian couple.
All these personal issues, of course, have been laced with murder and mayhem. One of the great things about Hawaii is that it has not been fully explored by writers of crime fiction yet. I’ve been able to explore lots of contemporary issues in the islands, and the crimes that arise from them. Chinese gangs, real estate pressure on the North Shore, illegal immigration, prostitution, wind energy and Hawaiian nationalism are just a few of the issues I’ve been able to mine.
What is it that drew you to writing mysteries instead of another genre?
I’ve been reading mysteries since I was a kid, beginning with FREDDY THE DETECTIVE. There’s something so satisfying about seeing a puzzle work itself out.
As a young writer, I was afflicted by a lack of action in my fiction – too many characters stood around thinking and watching other people do things. Writing a mystery forced my protagonist to be the one who acted. It gave me a solid structure to build a story on.
What part of the mystery do you enjoy more — letting the hero (and readers) solve the puzzle of WHO did it, figuring out WHY — or the thrill of your hero trying to catch or beat the killer once he’s been ID’d?
The part that I enjoy most is understanding the motivations of the villain in the story, and making them believable. I don’t like reading about crazed serial killers myself—those who just completely have a screw loose.
I want to know about relatively ordinary people, and what would drive them to commit crimes. What could you want so much that you’d kill to achieve it? Or what would you want so desperately to protect? I like finding those roots in things we all desire – love, family relationships, money, respect—and seeing what it would take to push someone that extra bit farther.
How have readers and critics reacted to your hero busting the stereotypes of detectives in mysteries?
When I was growing up, there weren’t very many gay male role models. They were mostly bitchy queens of the Paul Lynde variety. While men like him represent one part of the community, and one aspect of the gay male personality, you don’t expect to see him or Liberace tackling a murder suspect on the mean streets of Honolulu.
Readers and critics have applauded Kimo for being able to be who he is without apologizing. He freely admits that he didn’t get the gay decorating gene, though he does notice that his boss often wears polo shirts in “jewel tones.” He’ll notice the pecs on a handsome guy – and then cuff him and take him in for interrogation. He’s a lifelong surfer who uses his time on the waves to wash away all the darkness and despair that he sees on the streets, and to get in touch with his native heritage.
Will you continue to write more books in this series, or are you planning to branch off in another direction?
I think the series has been successful so far because I’ve been able to meld Kimo’s personal challenges with his cases. But a good series needs to be shaken up every so often, and at the end of NATURAL PREDATORS, there are big changes in store.
Kimo and his detective partner have accepted a temporary assignment to the FBI as part of their Joint Terrorism Task Force, which opens up the possibility of larger cases that would take him beyond the confines of District 1 in Honolulu. I participated in the FBI’s Citizens Academy two years ago, and I’ve been looking forward to using what I learned there. And with newborn twins in his life, Kimo will have his hands full on the homefront as well.
At the same time, I’m writing other books, including a cozy golden retriever mystery series and a series about a pair of bodyguards who spent four books in Tunisia and have recently been relocated to France. So there’s a lot going on!
Neil Plakcy is the author of the Mahu Investigations, about openly gay Honolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka. They are: MAHU, MAHU SURFER, MAHU FIRE, MAHU VICE, MAHU MEN, MAHU BLOOD, ZERO BREAK and NATURAL PREDATORS (2013). All are available from MLR Press in paper and e-book editions.
To learn more about Neil, please visit his website.