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by Mark Troy
Five Star, June 2014
304 pages
ISBN: 1432828592

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Mark Troy's second Ava Rome novel should be a winner. Set in Waikiki and featuring a tough female detective determined to protect those who need it, the novel allows non-islanders an entree into the complex levels of Hawaiian society, a listen to Hawaiian pidgin, and a view of its underworld. Troy has these things going for him, yet to my mind this novel falls short.

Troy's main character comes with a past. Her father seems to have deserted the army and left her mother to raise her and her developmentally disabled brother alone. Her brother dies in an accident. Ava is left with a soft spot for those in trouble and a hard, sarcastic surface that rarely reflects the sun. The book's title, THE SPLINTERED PADDLE, reflects Ava's hard surface and broken self. The book's title is also a motto of the island's police force and is taken from a notion of King Kamehameha: if someone is out on the waves and his or her paddle breaks, true friends brave all danger to rescue those who cannot otherwise make it back to shore.

As the novel opens, a stalker and serial killer, Norman Traxler, has followed Ava to Hawaii from California. In fact, we first meet Ava Rome through a limited third-person narrator who peers into Ava's windows through Traxler's penetrating eyes and crude thoughts. Traxler, who was put into prison with Ava's help, has done his time, and he is smart, patient, and hungry for the stalk before the kill. It is his brooding and malevolent presence that gives this novel the feel of a thriller.

Elsewhere on the island, multiple sub-plots unfold. A crooked policeman, Ron Nevez, wanting a little action, has begun participating in stalk-and-rape videos, which he sells through a crooked video store salesman. Stalking and raping is done with GHP, a date rape drug, and another "product" the policeman is involved in. Ava becomes involved when the policeman beats up a prostitute who knows too much about what the policeman is involved with. Ava works to remove the prostitute, Jenny, from the grasp of her infuriated and unmasked john.

Ava has a full calendar. A lawyer's daughter, Cassie Sands, has gone missing. Dressed in goth attire, she feels that evil gains respect and, flaunting her father's wishes, takes up with Wong, a well-known grower of clandestine marijuana for the island. Rescuing Cassie from Wong's grasp, Ava, stalked by Traxler, cursed by Nevez, places herself in the gunsights of yet another infuriated and crooked island man.

Through it all, we visit a Waikiki that is not in the movies. Inhabited by pimps and johns, growers and their "protection," nightclubs and video stores which have controlled-access back rooms, and men who call each other "brah" (for "brother") and who call Ava "tita" ("tough girl"). This trip to Hawai'i certainly reveals some interesting scenery.

However, to my mind, there is both too much going on, and not enough. Plenty of busy plot elements tie knots Gordian, and Ava undoes them at the end. Ava's leaps of logic, however, do not make sense. When Traxler's video equipment is found at an apartment across the street from her home, what supports Ava's "Sherlockian" leap of logic that Traxler has murdered her neighbor? In fact, that is correct, but what Ava knows about her neighbor and what she knows about Traxler do not add up to that conclusion. Troy's characters have an interesting collection of appearances, hobbies, and business dealings, but we know almost nothing of their psyche, what makes them do what they do or what compels them to be honest or to turn. Other thrillers provide us with fewer subplots and more depth granted to each character so that later, readers cultivate affection for some characters, or are cozened by others. Thrillers are not about car chases and beatings, but about human motivation for the things, both good and evil, that we do.

We look forward to Ava's further adventures, but we long also to know, through the fiction, a semblance of actual lives.

Cathy Downs is professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, where she teaches American literature. She is a fan of the well-turned whodunit.

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, April 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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