Hokuloa Road

by Elizabeth Hand
Mulholland Books, July 2022, $28

Grady Kendall is an ordinary young man, a carpenter in the small Maine town where he grew up and works repairing and renovating the fancy homes of wealthy summer residents. It’s a few months into the coronavirus pandemic, and his work has completely dried up. When his brother sends him a Craigslist ad for a caretaker job on a Hawaiian island—“carpentry skills a plus”—he applies and is immediately hired over Zoom by Wes Minton, a reclusive billionaire and well-known conservation advocate who owns a remote, undeveloped peninsula called Hokuloa Point.

To Grady, who has never even traveled outside of Maine, Hawaii’s juxtaposition of natives who struggle to get by and rich vacationers is familiar, while its brilliant sunshine and unique plant and animal life are utterly strange. He knows no one beyond Jessica Kiyoko, a girl he chatted with on the flight from Los Angeles who’s visiting a friend on the island. His only other contact is Dalita Nakoa, a Hawaiian and former caretaker who still does occasional work for Minton.

The billionaire is enigmatic and largely absent, spending most of his time out at the point, where he claims to have seen bird species that are officially considered extinct. The caretaker’s job is to make repairs and keep an eye on Minton’s isolated house and the collections of exotic birds and poisonous sea creatures he keeps there.

While still in his initial two-week COVID quarantine period, Grady begins to notice odd things about the place, such as a padlocked storage room in the unkempt garage, and is startled by a terrifying, dog-like figure that appears outside his cabin late at night. Is it a nightmare, jet-lag-induced hallucination, apparition from ancient native legend, or something real and dangerous?

Then, just as his quarantine ends, Jessica is reported missing. Grady realizes that the idyllic façade the island presents to tourists hides serious problems with homelessness, drug and sex trafficking, police corruption, poverty, and environmental destruction. Shocked to learn about a long list of unsolved disappearances, Grady fears that Minton may be using his vast resources to get away with murder—and Jessica may be his next victim. Believing the authorities are complicit in the cover-up, he sets out alone on a desperate rescue mission.

Grady’s loneliness, naiveté, and keen powers of observation make him an engaging, everyman hero. Elizabeth Hand’s writing is exquisite, studded with gem-like nuggets of description: Wes’ eyes have “the icy sheen of an expensive hunting blade,” his extravagant aquariums display “unrecognizable creatures that would be nightmarish if they didn’t also resemble something from a candy store on Mars.” The novel serves up plenty of biting social commentary—to Grady, it seems that “no matter where you went, rural Maine or some upscale compound in Hawai’i, you found the same old shit.”

Though the suspense builds slowly at first, the wait is well worth it, as the reader is immersed in Hokuloa’s mysterious, exotic setting, mysterious supernatural elements, and real-life danger as Grady finally confronts Wes.

Jean Gazis
Teri Duerr
July 2022
Mulholland Books