If you like a thriller with a lot going on, Mark Troy’s The Splintered Paddle is right up your alley. You’ve got a beautiful prostitute hounded by a dirty cop, a vicious pot grower with a taste for young girls, and a newly released psycho convict looking for revenge. Throw in a runaway teenager, date rape drugs, rape videos, and a murder or two, and there is more than enough to keep both private investigator Ava Rome busy and the reader turning pages.
Rome, a retired military police officer working in Hawaii, is first hired by the prostitute to help her deal with the cop who has been harassing her. Then a local lawyer asks Rome to locate his daughter who has run off. Meanwhile, she begins getting crank phone calls, and a sadistic criminal she helped to catch years ago before she retired has been released from San Quentin and shows up in Hawaii. When she discovers the young girl with a local drug dealer, she finds herself dealing with three very violent customers, and it gets worse when all three seem to be working together.
Less a question of solving a mystery, the plot focuses on how Rome will be able to deal with what seem like the overwhelming odds against her. The local authorities offering little help, Rome is left to her own devices, both to protect her clients and eventually herself. Though ex-military police, she is no Jack Reacher; still she is a woman who can handle herself, and she does get a little help from her friends. Beautiful, resourceful, tenacious—she is a heroine to be reckoned with.
Hawaii, as the TV networks have discovered, makes a sensational setting for a thriller. Not only do you have exotic scenery and lavish hotels, but you have a place with a seamy underbelly as well. You can have a film company coming to shoot on location; you can have Korean bars filled with Asian B-girls. You can feature hard bodied surfers; you can have bikini clad sun worshippers. It is the kind of place where the surface beauty belies the ugliness beneath.
The Hawaiian setting is portrayed realistically. The conversation of locals is loaded with patois, Hawaiian pidjin. Characters represent the ethnic diversity endemic to the island. Local foods and customs are highlighted. Whether it is the aumakua, his guardian spirit, worn as an earring by one character, or the book’s very title, the novel fairly reeks with local color.
The title, The Splintered Paddle, refers to a principle of Hawaiian law based on an ancient law of Kamehameha The Great which mandates the protection of those who are unable to protect themselves. It is a symbol worn by the local police, and its message is emblazoned on Rome’s business card: “The defenseless shall be guaranteed protection from harm.”