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THE BONES OF THE KUHINA NUI
By Michael A. Herr
Published by Lulu.com, 2006 ($14.95)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Late one night sometime in the middle of the 19th century, eight shadowy figures crept into the Royal Mausoleum in the Nu'uanu Valley on the island of O'ahu. They carried in with them a small, carefully wrapped bundle. Their mission was to retrieve a precious object from a coffin due to be sealed the following day, replacing it with their bundle. They then carried their treasure, the body of Queen Ka'ahumanu, the Kuhina Nui, favorite wife of the legendary King Kamehameha, out of the building. After preparing her remains in the old ways, stripping the flesh and placing the bones in a special casket, they set out in a canoe to take her to her final resting place on the Big Island, near the secret tomb of her husband. The eight women were met on the shore by another woman and her young daughter, the chosen caretakers of the Queen's remains. The daughter would take over the honored role when her mother passed on, and for the next several generations the tradition continued.
In the present day, their descendant, Haunani Pono, calls all her children home for a special family meeting. At age seventy-five, she knows it is time to decide who will replace her as the Kuhina Nui's caretaker. Times have changed, and her children no longer hold with the old ways, but when they learn that the chosen one will inherit not only the responsibility, but the valuable ancestral land and estate, they all realize they have a vested interest in becoming Mom's replacement. They are stunned when she tells them that none of them are viable candidates, and that she will pass the duty, and the estate, to someone outside the family. Not surprisingly, that person is quickly, and violently, removed from the running.
The oldest daughter, Elizabeth, is a bitter spinster librarian, but at least she lives on the island. Her boyfriend R.J., a land developer, is pressuring her to convince Mom to sell the land, but that will only happen over Haunani's dead body. Lori manages the Queen's Beach Resort Hotel, and her high-pressure job leaves her with little time to spare. Also, working all the time helps her forget that her worthless ex-husband Darryl cleaned out all her savings in the divorce. Teri and her husband Michael Maegher have done well for themselves as teachers, but they live in California, and have no wish to return to the island. Shari, the black sheep of the family, is a Las Vegas hostess, married to Antonio, a compulsive gambler and womanizer. Son Jeremy is a big shot in the Silicon Valley, and is unmarried. None of the daughters have daughters or granddaughters to pass on the legacy, but after the death of her first choice, Haunani has a vision that there may still be a way to keep the honor in the family.
Before all is settled, several of the family members meet with "accidents," and some of them do not survive. Herr spins a tale of history, mystery, family dysfunction and the value of family ties in an exotic setting. This is the first in his Kohala Coast Mystery series, and it is a fine debut.
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