Blood Orchids

don't usually never read books set in Hawaii, because I always expect some inaccurate, unrealistic portrayal of the people and culture here (I wonder if that's how other folks feel when books are written about where they're from). I don't really like movies set in Hawaii. I don't really like TV shows set in Hawaii. I know too much for it to be enjoyable, and I'm waaaay too critical. I just can't help it! So I was a little nervous going into Blood Orchids, but after becoming acquainted with Maui author Toby Neal through social media, I thought, why not support her and give it a go? I might be surprised.
This book is set in Hilo - my home town. In fact, I'm a Hilo High grad, the same school that a couple of victims in the story went to. I attended UH Hilo. I've even been to Halawa prison to visit my future father-in-law. I know each and every place this story took place in. I could SEE everything quite clearly. I didn't need much imagination. But because I am FROM Hilo, I became even MORE critical of it. The pressure was on for the Hilo I know to be described just right.
Ms. Neal does not disappoint. While she does alter the names of some places slightly (which threw me at first, but I see the wisdom in changing things up a bit), she does a good job of capturing Hilo's details - the tin roofs, the grass, the rivers, bayfront, Volcano, Punaluʻu Beach, the plantation houses, the porches, the dogs, the NUMEROUS dark colored, lifted trucks, the black sand. It's all there.
The pidgin (something else that usually makes me cringe on TV and in movies) was decent and used in the right places. I like how she didn't have the locals stereotypically spewing pidgin every time they opened their mouth. We are capable of speaking proper English. It's true that many of us turn it on and off depending on context and emotion and I felt like she captured pidgin usage very well.
She also does a good job explaining what things are to people who are unfamiliar with Hawaii, but she does it concisely and it doesn't take away from the story.
But I'm probably the only one who cares about such details. On to the story:
I found myself really liking Lei Texeira, the main character. I loved how the story of her past unfolded and how it affected her actions throughout the book. She's flawed and brash and rude but she has her reasons for being so. Think Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality (before she gets pretty) but with a darker past. As the story progresses she slowly begins to bring down the walls that she's built around herself and let people in, but it isn't an easy road and she can easily revert back to her former self on a dime. This is no Disney portrayal of life and struggle.
I enjoyed the dialogue between the characters, and the time that was taken to develop each one.
I HATED the villain. He's a total disgusting sicko pervert who just makes you want to take a shower...or 20, which is good. Ms. Neal keeps you guessing as there are quite a view weirdos in the book and any one of them could be the main perp, not that Hilo is full of weirdos or anything, but there are some interesting folk.
There are some pretty good twists in the story. You think it's over, but it's not and even though she gets through one challenge, you get the sense that something else is gonna happen. I loved the suspense.
Finally, I really liked how things wrapped up. Everything came full circle and the connections drawn to family and Lei's history are unexpected, but make sense.
Overall, I found myself really enjoying this book. It was surreal to have it take place in my hometown, but kinda fun at the same time as I could picture everything really easily. I started out with a critical eye, but was soon lost in the story. It could've happened anywhere. I would've enjoyed it all the same. Be warned, it gets a little graphic sexually, and there's a bit of swearing but not overboard. This is a story about cops and criminals after all.
If you're looking for a grittier, darker side of Hawaii, support a local author and check out Blood Orchids by Toby Neal (the first in a SERIES! Woohoo!). It was a real page turner for me and I hope it'll be the same for you too.