We are all products of our pasts, a combination of long ago childhood experiences and what we ate last night. Like an order of deluxe saimin noodles, Blood Orchids, the first book in The Lei Crime Series by Toby Neal is a multi-layered and nuanced murder mystery.
There are two mysteries—the noodles and miso soup of the novel. Lei Texeira is a beat cop in Hilo, Hawaii trying to figure out who’s murdering women and who’s playing a cat and mouse stalking game by leaving notes on her doorstep. There are a lot of possibilities and questions about whether it’s one perp or three and whether the crimes are related.
As the mystery deepens, Lei finds out more about her past and begins to understand how the abuses she triumphed in childhood continue to shape her today. Like thin slices of teri beef these revelations add substance to the soup by allowing the reader to infer more about the characters and their motivations than they know themselves.
There’s a budding romance angle—the chopped green onion—and extended family relationships—the pink and white striped fish cake—but the real seasoning is in Neal’s deft handling of the setting. It’s a difficult thing to write a novel for a wide audience that authentically portrays life in Hawaii and Toby’s nailed it. She balances on the fine high wire of explaining just enough that readers unfamiliar with the culture get it without boring or oversimplifying it in the eyes of islanders. There’s a little Pidgin dialogue in Blood Orchids—Pidgin Light, you could say—enough to add flavor without a lot of work on the part of non-native speakers.
One of the highest compliments I can give is that Toby makes the setting seem normal and natural. Yes, it’s set in Hawaii. Yes, there are beaches, kālua pig plate lunches, funerals with remembrance stones, and all respected elders are called aunty and uncle, but none of this is center stage or explained too deeply. It’s all about the characters and the story.
And what a story it is.
Blood Orchids, book one in The Lei Crime Series by Toby Neal is self-published and available as a trade paperback and eBook on Amazon and on her website. Can’t wait to read the sequels: Torch Ginger, Black Jasmine, and Broken Fern.
Connect with Toby Neal