As I prepare to leave Hawaii for the U.S. mainland, I’m strapped for time, and subsequently behind in my writing, including this blog, and the third Frank Keegan mystery, Lost Daughters. So, I thought I would fill the gap with some reviews of the first Keegan mystery.
“A Halo for Red Betsy” has all the elements of a classic dime novel- a hard-core badass lead character, dodging bullets and falling for a bunch of babes. The well-fleshed out albeit somewhat archetypal characters, crisp writing and suspenseful turns would make for a fantastic noir indie flick. (The authors have even picked out a dream cast, check out the book’s Facebook page!)
“The Bad Ass…
Frank Keegan isn’t a 1940s Sherlock Holmes. A Navy MP coming back from the war and just trying to get drunk before heading back to San Diego, Keegan doesn’t have any super powers, mind palaces or even enough cigarettes. So he’s got to crack the case the good ol’ fashioned way.
A man walks into a Honolulu bar and gets caught up in a murder of Navy Lieutenant Elizabeth “Betsy” Vale. The top brass want to keep things in-house and since Keegan found the body and is a former cop, he’s their guy. Part of the fun is going through the gallery of rogues and trying to figure it out whether it’s the husband, the Chinese mob boss or even the FBI.
Between bar fights and car chases, Keegan chases some great skirt. This book is a dime novel after all, so don’t expect it to pass the Bechdel test with flying colors. But that being said, the female characters in the book are nicely fleshed out and aren’t just carbon copy movie props. There’s more to love about each of them than just their looks. Even in just a few paragraphs, you get a chance to really meet them.
“And that’s actually true of all the characters. Keegan is action hero tough, but he does really get beaten up along the way. As he is trying to figure this all out, you can sense he’d rather be doing something else but can’t help himself from doing the right thing. Liao and McDermid have been able to breathe life into everyone, whether it’s the gambling boss or the bartender’s girlfriend.
“‘Some say that if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans. Or perhaps it’s the Devil. My plans had been simple, but I guess God and the Devil both had a good chuckle at my expense.’ ”
Another reader rightfully complained about there being only one book (there are now two), but none-the-less wrote:
“Really, really enjoyed this book.
“Recent detective thrillers left me bogged down with details, muddled character motivations or forced character development. “Red Betsy” was what I’ve been craving for a long time. It harkens back to the dark heroes of Raymond Chandler. The setting is post-WWII Hawaii but it neither felt dated nor was it didactically over-explaining details of the setting.
“To put it simply, I really couldn’t stop reading this book and, although I didn’t literally devour it, I devoured it. Now I’m craving more and a bit upset to find out there isn’t a next book out yet. I guess that’s my main beef with this book – it says “A Frank Keegan Mystery” but there is only one book so far.”
“McDermid and Liao capture the essence of post-war Honolulu in this fast-paced and engrossing whodunit, in a case involving a female Navy lieutenant found murdered in a Waikiki hotel room. The cast of characters is finely drawn, from ex-Navy cop Frank Keegan to a motley crew of gangsters and petty thugs. Throw in a smattering of naval officers along with a couple of Honolulu police detectives, and you’re in for lots of surprises and plot twists that will keep you on the edge of your seat as you enter the shady side of Chinatown and get a peek behind the scenes of the U.S. Navy. Suspects galore will keep you guessing right up to the denouement. I couldn’t put it down!”
Of course, praise from a great writer is always welcome. Susan Tepper called it a “mystery with style” and wrote:
“The authors of this Frank Keegan Mystery cycle have written a compelling who-dun-it, set a few years after WW2, a compelling time period in history when things were still at a tilt and the Cold War was beginning to emerge as the new threat. These characters are believable on the page and the dialogue is snappy. Very much enjoyed this book!”
(See “Merrill: The Girl with No Fear of Flying” below: https://almcdermid.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/merrill-the-girl-with-no-fear-of-flying/)
“Throwback-style crime novel. Fast-paced and keeps you guessing. Everyone I thought was the killer turned out not to be. Best feature is the rich local flavor – authentically transports the reader back to the Honolulu of the 1940s.”
And then, there are these two, both of which I’m still smiling about . . .
“This book is a great read in a style similar to an old “hard-boiled” crime novel. One of the things that sets crime and detective novels apart from each other is their settings – Spenser’s Boston, Jack Irish’s Melbourne, Cormoran Strike’s London – and A Halo for Red Betsy has a distinctive one, Hawaii not long after World War 2. Hawaii in that era is like another character in the book besides narrator Frank Keegan and the other leading players. The plot is tightly woven and will keep you turning pages. As another reviewer said, Keegan narrates and if it’s not always a pleasure to be inside his head, you always want to know what he’s going to say and do next. I’m rating the book an honest four stars – I’d like to give it four and a half, saving that extra half star for the likes of Ross Macdonald and Robert Galbraith (J.K.Rowling).”
Ross Macdonald is a favorite of both myself and Aki, one of the authors we strive to emulate. I can’t speak for Aki, but to come within a half-star of this great is praise beyond measure! And then to also be compared with Mickey Spillane!
“Very much in the tradition of Mickey Spillane. Set in post WWII Hawaii and the McCarty era of the communist threat.”
I’d have to be called the next Raymond Chandler to top this!
And a few more short, but very sweet reviews:
“I had a blast reading it! Really, really well done! I couldn’t wait to get back to it each night…and totally neglected my work while I was! I guess this is what they call a page turner!”
“It’s a story that keeps the reader eager to know what the next clue will be. I enjoyed the humour and surprises.”
“I really enjoy the pace and possible outcomes that the story leads. Keeps me on my toes for sure.”
“The dialog is crisp, the setting accurate for the era, the characters believable, and the plotline carries the reader along well. Looking forward to the next Frank Keegan mystery.”
Up next, The Cheongsam Bombshell, Frank Keegan Mystery #2