Ghosts of Waikiki by Jennifer K. Morita Review

GHOSTS OF WAIKIKI tells the story of unemployed newspaper reporter Maya Wong, who reluctantly returns home to Hawaii to ghostwrite the memoir of a dodgy real estate developer. Before she can settle into the assignment, a man dies under mysterious circumstances and Maya gets plunged into the middle of a murder investigation. Maya clashes with the lead homicide detective, who happens to be her ex-boyfriend, while finding herself in the sights of the killer as she digs for the truth before she becomes the next victim.

Ghosts of Waikiki by Jennifer K. Morita is an entertaining murder mystery chock full of contemporary issues in Hawaii, including the impact of tourism and out-of-state investment that is pricing the locals out of paradise.

Unemployed journalist Maya Wong reluctantly returns to her native Hawaii to ghostwrite the memoir of dodgy real estate developer Parker Hamilton. But when Charles, the Hamilton family patriarch, dies under suspicious circumstances, Maya can’t resist involving herself in the investigation. The deeper she gets involved, the more she clashes with the lead homicide detective, her ex-boyfriend Koa, and the greater risk Maya runs in becoming a killer’s next victim.

I rarely read murder mysteries featuring amateur detectives because they are often not very realistic. But this one is an exception given the lead character, Maya Wong, is a journalist and her investigative skills as a reporter and her connection to the family realistically applies to the case at hand. She also has an intimate connection with the lead police detective, which gives her access to information about the official investigation even though he continually warns her to stay out of it. But Maya’s curiosity, stubbornness, and the habits she picked up as a news reporter means she just can’t resist getting and staying involved. She quickly learns the only thing more dangerous than hunting a killer is being hunted by one, but Maya persists in trying to find out who killed Charles Hamilton.

I really enjoyed the set-up of this novel. When her California newspaper goes out of business, out of desperation, Maya takes a job ghostwriting the memoir of a controversial real estate developer. This produces angst for her on many levels. As a native Hawaiian who left home for the mainland to pursue a career as a journalist, she feels uncomfortable working with a man she knows does more harm than good for the locals. His huge developments not only force local mom and pop businesses to go under, but developers like Parker Hamilton make it difficult for the locals to buy homes. It’s like she is working for the arch-nemesis of her own people. In addition, Maya must deal with the stress of dealing with the friends and family she left behind when she departed for the mainland.

Maya’s ethical dilemma over writing the memoir gets eclipsed quickly when the patriarch of the Hamilton family, Charles Hamilton II, dies under suspicious circumstances and the cops soon suspect foul play. Unable to resist her past news hound instincts, Maya searches for clues to the killer’s identity, drawing the killer’s attention, and making herself a target. But even when things get dicey, Maya can’t let it go. It almost turns into a full-on cat-and-mouse game, with her never seeming to be fully aware of just how precarious her situation is.

Like most amateur detective murder mysteries, this one aims for the right vibe rather than perfection, but overall, it stays believable. The authentic local Hawaiian manner of speech adds authenticity and makes the characters more relatable to readers. Morita’s endearing writing style reminds me of another California crime fiction writer who has become a recent favorite of mine. I feel she is an exciting fresh voice in crime fiction we’ll be hearing more from. Ghosts of Waikiki is a strong debut which I very much enjoyed reading and recommend to fans of mystery and detective fiction. I hope to meet the character Maya Wong again soon.

Crooked Lane Books, an imprint of The Quick Brown Fox & Company LLC, will publish Ghosts of Waikiki on November 19, 2024. I received an advance review copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley used for this review, which represents my honest opinions.

Book rating: ★★★★

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