Mele Kalikimaka from the “Ninth Island” aka Las Vegas!
Two of my favorite SoCal writers, Janet Elizabeth Lynn and her husband Will Zeilinger visited Vegas recently to research their next noir mystery. Since my move from L.A. last year, I was eager to meet up with them to talk shop at my favorite lunch locale—the Border Grill inside the Forum Shops at Caesars.
Chatting over tacos, guacamole and tortilla chips, we shared info about Indie publishing and our latest projects. While they have each written their own novels over the last ten years, I am particularly fascinated in their collaboration on a mystery series set in 1950s Los Angeles about movie stuntman Skylar Drake, a former LAPD detective, who is dragged into the murder investigations. When they mentioned their trip to Molokai to research STRANGE MARKINGS (Skylar Drake Series, Book 2), I wanted to know more about their experience on the island.
I’m happy to share a brief story summary, the research trip, an excerpt AND a recipe for Pineapple Haupia mentioned in their book:
The Pacific breezes blow many things in from the ocean. This time its power, greed, and murder. At the dawn of the television age in 1955, Skylar Drake is called to identify the remains of a fellow movie stuntman found buried in a shallow grave. While there, he’s shown mysterious wounds and strange tattoos on two additional bodies.
A wealthy Bel Air matron sends her enticing niece to enlist Drake’s help in locating a missing nephew. The search takes him back to pre-statehood Hawaii where he stopped off on his way to the hell of the Korean War. Unexplained deaths, politics and superstitious locals turn the tropical paradise into a nightmare where nothing is what it seems and no one can be trusted.
Our Research Trip to the Islands
The novel begins in San Pedro, California. The clues lead to pre-statehood Molokai, Hawaii, 1955. Even after spending hours searching online, we found a research trip to the Hawaii State Public Library in Honolulu and the Molokai Public Library was a must.
Our first stop was Molokai and its public library, one of three places on the island that had AC and plenty of drinking water, both of which are in short supply on the island. We spent hours going through newspapers, telephone directories, and local magazines from the period. The librarian was more than helpful, pulling out old materials, blowing off the dust and piling them up on the table in categories. We were shocked that after 58 years, the town had not changed that much. Photos of the main street Ala Malama Ave. showed it exactly the way it looks now. The history of how the island’s ownership of the sugar mill switched between cattle ranches and crops was like a chess game and played an important role in the island’s development.
We took notes and gauged our exploration according to what was found in the newspaper articles. The sugar mill was in ruins but many parts of the interior and actual mill were intact. As we walked around the overgrown landscape, our original plot changed drastically, especially the Kapu (curses.) The locals believed the mill was haunted toward the end of its run.
The trip through the west part of the island was dessert-like, flat, dry, red dirt and plenty of places to dump dead bodies. On the west side, tropical foliage with cliffs and beautiful beaches with crashing surf. We took a side road through hills covered with dense forest and large groups of birds fluttering and singing. After a short hike on the trail we came across an old rusty, abandon shack with saplings pushing against the dilapidated roof and bent sides. A perfect place to hide someone or something illegal perhaps?
The remaining two days on the island were spent interviewing the locals. Since we were out of our element and had some understanding of the layout of the island, we asked our usual question, “Where would you dump a dead body?” We discovered early on that people react differently. Some smiled and walked away, others didn’t even smile when they left. However, quite a few gave us cross streets, and specific building on the main street to check out.
The largest town is Kaunakakai, consisting of three blocks of mom and pop shops, a single traffic light, and one gas station. The population hasn’t grown very much since the 50’s, and the residents love their isolation. Air conditioning is reserved for the medical center, post office, and library. There are still many unpaved roads.
Molokai is a time capsule. The growth that occurred on the other islands has been restricted in Molokai due to insufficient water and electrical resources. Families still live near the water’s edge and fish for their living. The main street is still the gathering place for the latest news and gossip.
After Molokai we spent two days in the Hawaii State Public Library to get an idea of what life was like in 1955 Honolulu. We even found great articles about the Red Light District, the perfect place for Skylar Drake and his partner to drown their sorrows. We learned there was a large, well-organized group of locals opposed to statehood during this time, and politics under the provincial government in Honolulu was as crooked as it was on the mainland. Also, traditional Hawaiian music was mostly replaced with Latin music, and Huli-huli chicken was developed the summer of 1955. It went on to become a popular food item in Hawaii and the mainland soon after. How about that!
On our second day at the library, the librarian asked if we’d be interested in some of the legends, superstitions, and curses from that time. We spent the remainder of the day reading amazing stories, personal accounts, and research into the origins of many of them.
Haupia is a traditional coconut pudding served at Hawaiian Luau.
1-1/2 c. coconut milk
1/1/2 c. water
1/2 c. +2 TB sugar
1/2c. +2 TB cornstarch
1 c. crushed pineapple, drained
In a sauce pan over medium heat, combine coconut milk, water, sugar and cornstarch, stir until thickened. lower heat, continue to cook 5-10 minutes. Transfer mixture to 8-inch pan. Stir in pineapple. Refrigerate until set about 2 hours.
To serve, cut into 2-inch squares. Serves 8-1
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About Janet: http://aboutjanetlynn.blogspot.com/
About Will: http://www.willzeilingerauthor.com/faq.html