So much of mystery fiction turns on individual tragedy and obsession. A single murder, a search for a missing child, a cold case that a cop just can’t let go. Less often is the igniting crime one of macro evil. Robert McCaw’s latest novel, Fire and Vengeance (Oceanview), does just that. How’s this for a hook? An elementary school in Hawaii was built — knowingly — atop a volcanic vent. When the volcano erupts, and lava pours through, fourteen children die. It’s reckless endangerment and murder to a mind-numbing degree. As the cover-up kicks in, more murders follow. 

This is Big Sin on the Big Island of Hawaii, and McCaw’s protagonist, Chief Detective Koa Kane, proves to be a terrific anchor to this story of twisted trouble in paradise. This is McCaw’s third entry in the Koa Kane Hawaiian Mystery series. An Army veteran and a successful trial lawyer, the author seems to have found his muse in Hawaii. 

Like all well-executed mysteries, place is a central character. The setting — whether it’s a major metropolis or a tropical island — must come through with rich authenticity. McCaw knows this and succeeds in bringing the sights and smells and culture of the Big Island to life. It’s a land of rich history, but also one of unique — and perilous — geologic conditions. The volcanic powers of the Big Island loom like the San Andreas fault in California. You probably won’t perish due to an earthquake or an erupting volcano — but you never know. It could always happen, at any second. That condition of permanent, subconscious unease can prove to be an excellent backdrop for noir. 

The death of fourteen elementary-school children recalls another all-too-common horror of American life: school shootings. The parallels are acknowledged. As one character says: “In a way it’s worse than Columbine, Sandy Hook, or Parkland. In those cases, disturbed kids killed their classmates. Here the people who were supposed to protect kids put them in mortal danger.” 

Corruption and cover-ups, no matter how heinous, tend not to render the same chills as, say, a serial killer. The former might spark disgust and outrage, but it’s not the stuff of nightmares. Yet, McCaw does an admirable job in revealing the evil inherent in both. He also excels at plotting a tight police procedural with a lawyer’s eye for the telling detail.

Most of all though, it’s his evident love and fascination for this Hawaiian island that comes through on each page. I suspect very few of us will be boarding a flight to Hawaii anytime soon. In lieu of leis and luaus and sunsets on the beach, here’s a page-turning immersive trip to the Big Island from the relative comfort of your couch. 

Fire and Vengeance is available now in ebook, and for preorder in hardcover. For more information on McCaw, visit his BookTrib author profile.

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Robert McCaw grew up in a military family traveling the world. After graduating from Georgetown University, he served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army before earning his law degree from the University of Virginia. Thereafter he practiced as a partner in a major international law firm in Washington, D.C., and New York City — and maintained a home on the Big Island of Hawai’i. McCaw brings a unique authenticity to his Koa Kāne Hawaiian mystery novels in both his legal expertise and his firsthand ability to portray the richness of Hawai’i’s history, culture, language and people. McCaw lives in New York City with his wife Calli.