Excellence in Literature
Ka Palapala Po‘okela Award 2013
Wipeout! & Hanging Ten in Paris: Two Surfing Detective Mysteries,
by Chip Hughes (Slate Ridge Press)
At first glance, the little franchise of "Surfing Detective" mysteries created by author Chip Hughes seems hokey in the extreme: a meretricious meringue for tourists and adolescents. But the way WIPEOUT! opens should disabuse you of that notion:
"Are you the Surfing Detective?" she asked in a voice as soft as trade winds whispering in bamboo.
Simple, straightforward, quick, at once boldly silly and unassuming, and brushed with Island poetry. When Kai Cooke says yes, the woman responds, "Good, because you're the only one who can help."
Maybe Hughes, a surfing English professor at UH with two scholarly books about John Steinbeck, is the only one who could write a page-turner like this. He has captured the semi-hardboiled vernacular of the classic gumshoe novel, and given us an authentic Hawai‘i, believable surf scenes, good pidgin, and realistic local characters, without tipping over into the self-parody that so readily beckons.
There's a breezy competence on display here that makes the writing of detective fiction look simple. It’s not. This is a very convincing job for a very tough market. The author has done his homework, from Raymond Chandler to Agatha Christie and into more modern examples of the whodunit genre, including a wink and nod to MAGNUM, P.I. Of the many books published in Honolulu in 2012, this combo package of a short novel and novelette must be the most entertaining and easiest to read. Like a session in smooth blue water.
You have to admire Hughes’s determination, dedication, and craftsmanship, for these works as well as the earlier MURDER ON MOLOKA‘I and KULA, as well as the upcoming MURDER AT VOLCANO HOUSE.
Why a surfing detective? You may as well ask, Why a tweed-clad cocaine dabbler intellectual? Surfing actually helps Kai Cooke solve his mysteries. “Sherlock Holmes had his pipe,” he says. “I have my surfboard. Floating on the glassy sea, I drift into a kind of trance and can disentangle the most intricate web.”