Behind Bones of Hilo

By Eric Redman

Post #1 – March 22, 2021

Several strands of personal history inspired Bones of Hilo.  A Seattleite seeking winter sunshine, I began visiting the Big Island of Hawaiʻi with my wife and young family forty years ago.  I fell wildly in love with it, particularly South Kohala, and also became fascinated by the Big Island’s colorful history, which I began to study.  To me, Oʻahu, Maui, and Kauʻai couldn’t compare with the home island of King Kamehameha the Great, for beauty or for history. 


We bought a home in South Kohala, built a library of Hawaiian history, and began traveling around the Big Island and spending time with my wife’s Hawaiian cousins and her ʻohana.   My wife’s aunt and uncle had each moved to Hawaiʻi at age 20, married Hawaiians, and produced four children.  Taking their large ʻohana into account, the eight cousins and their children have a large store of wonderful names.  For example, the daughter of my wife’s cousin Carolyn Wong is the beautifully named Kuʻuleialoha Anelamaikalani Wong Kaʻaukai. 


Such terrific names deserved to be in a novel!  So my wife and I began imagining a series of lighthearted Big Island detective stories set in South Kohala:  Murder at the Mauna Lani, Mayhem at the Mauna Kea, Horror at Hualālai, and so forth.  Our lead detective would be named Kawika (Hawaiian for “David”), after young Kuʻulei’s real-life father, Kawika Kaʻaukai.  On our long drives around the Big Island my wife and I devised many marvelous, improbable, and hilarious plots for Kawika to untangle.


Then in October 2001, my brother-in-law Tom Wales, an Assistant United States Attorney, was murdered at his Seattle home by a gunman – one who’s never been arrested, much less tried and convicted.  From that moment, unable to take part in the official investigation, I had to work out my anger and fury and frustration and grief in some other fashion.  Real-life murder has none of the humor that detective fiction sometimes allows.


My catharsis came through writing a much darker detective story, still set largely in South Kohala with Kawika as the lead detective – and Kuʻulei as his young cousin – but otherwise unrelated to the lighthearted tales my wife and I had earlier envisioned.  Bones of Hilo is the 2021 product of all that that sturm and drang. 


I tried writing it first in 2002, right after the murder – too soon – with tentative titles such as Human Sacrifice and A Thousand Kisses Deep (a Leonard Cohen song released around the same time).  The 2002 version was way too long and just didn’t work.  I turned to other things, and Bones rested in a virtual drawer for sixteen years. 


Then in 2018, my lifelong friend Barbara Anderson, a professional reader of detective fiction, gently but firmly urged me to give the manuscript a virtual dust-off, roll up my sleeves, and start over again.  So thanks to Barbara, plus many others in the book’s Acknowledgments, here it is, still set on the Big Island in 2002 with Kawika and Kuʻulei but largely a completely different book.  I hope readers will enjoy it, of course – but more than that, perhaps come to enjoy and appreciate the Big Island’s fascinating history, as I do.

About ME

Eric (Ric) Redman is a Seattle-based writer, lawyer, and climate activist. He is a former contributing editor of Rolling Stone and has written for the New York TimesWashington Post, and many other publications. He also wrote the non-fiction bestseller The Dance of Legislation.


bones of hilo book

From Hawaii’s Big Island to the wilds of Washington’s North Cascades, a novice detective uncovers a hoard of ancient secrets at the heart of a grisly murder.

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