Mahu Series by Neil Plakcy ~ Book Review by Ulysses

Mahu-Collage Title: Mahu Series

Author: Neil Plakcy

Publisher: MLR Press

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars



Mahu—a generally negative Hawaiian term for homosexuals—introduces a unique character to detective fiction. Kimo Kanapa’aka is a handsome, mixed-race surfer living in Honolulu, a police detective confronting his homosexuality in an atmosphere of macho bravado within the police force.

A man of intelligence, strength, honesty, resourcefulness, and intense dedication to the people of Hawaii, Kimo is a hard-boiled hero you will never forget. Fast-paced, intricately plotted, thoroughly enjoyable, this is a sexy, surprisingly moving mystery about discovering oneself as much as catching a killer.

Mahu Surfer

Neil Plakcy’s second mystery novel, sends openly gay Honolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka back to his surfing past. Rather than announce Kimo’s public return to the HPD after the events of Mahu, his new boss asks the former competitive surfer to go undercover on Oahu’s North Shore to find the killer of three young surfers.

In his return to the North Shore, Kimo discovers trouble in paradise, from an epidemic rise in the use of crystal meth to increasing pressure on real estate prices. As well, he rekindles an uneasy friendship with an old friend whose sexual assault drove Kimo into the police academy, and further into the closet, six years earlier.

Mahu Surfer showcases a handsome, sexy hero who struggles to overcome personal troubles and makes private sacrifices for the public good. Throw in an exotic tropical locale, plenty of aloha spirit and a dash of surf culture, as well as a slam-bang ending that puts Kimo and the people he cares about in danger, and you’ve got the makings of a page-turning mystery.

A finalist for the 2007 Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Mystery

Mahu Fire

egins six months after Honolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapaka’a’s return to Honolulu from his undercover assignment on the North Shore. He’s becoming more comfortable with his visibility as Honolulu’s only openly gay homicide detective, including mentoring a group of gay teens.

Kimo, his family and friends are attending a local charity event in support of gay marriage when a bomb disrupts the gala. Kimo is determined to find out who feels strongly enough against the issue to kill– but it’s possible that his high profile will stand in his way.

Winner of the Hawaii Five-O award for best police procedural mystery
A finalist for the 2008 Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Mystery

Mahu Vice

When a Chinese teenager dies in a fire at a Honolulu shopping center, homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka must overcome his issues with his ex-boyfriend, fire inspector Mike Riccardi, to investigate an underworld of illegal immigration, gambling and prostitution.

Fourth in the /Mahu/ series, /Mahu Vice/ is a ripped-from-the-headlines look at sexual obsession, the criminal mind, and the price of life in paradise. It’s also a deeply romantic story of two alpha males struggling to find a way to love each other.

Mahu Blood

Two-time Lambda Literary Award finalist Neil Plakcy returns to the Hawaiian Islands with a new mystery about blood ties in a state torn by ethnic tension. Openly gay Honolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka must investigate a series of murders that threaten his own family as well as the citizens he struggles to protect.

Billions of dollars are at stake in a fight over who the land of the Aloha State really belongs to. Is it the United States– or the indigenous people of the islands, many of whom feel their sovereign kingdom was overthrown by American businessmen?

At the same time, Kimo and his fire investigator partner, Mike Riccardi, deal with the stress of moving in together to create their own ohana — a Hawaiian term which means family, as well as community.

Mahu Men

Mixing mystery and erotica, the stories in Mahu Men take readers into the world of openly gay Honolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka. Moving from pickups to murders, Kimo surfs the waves of his professional and personal lives in a sexy, sensual tropical paradise, where danger and desire lurk behind every palm tree.The stories fill the gaps between Neil Plakcy’s Mahu novels, showing Kimo dating as well as solving cases and establishing a relationship with his new detective partner. Mixing the sensuality of Plakcy’s erotica with the sharp-edged attitude of his mysteries, Mahu Men is a chance for new readers to meet Kimo, and for fans to delve more deeply into his world.

Zero Break

Openly gay Honolulu homicide detective and surfer Kimo Kanapa’aka investigates the murder of a young lesbian mother at the same time he and his partner consider having children themselves.

Zero break refers to the deep-water location where waves first begin, often far offshore. For Honolulu homicide detective and surfer Kimo Kanapa’aka, it means his most dangerous case yet.

A young mother is murdered in what appears to be a home invasion robbery, leaving behind a complex skein of family and business relationships, and Kimo and his detective partner Ray Donne must navigate deadly waters to uncover the true motive behind her death and bring her killer to justice.

Kimo is also in trouble at home, as he and fire investigator Mike Riccardi consider fathering children themselves.

My View:

Earlier this year for Prism Book Alliance I wrote about Joseph Hansen’s epic series from the 1970s and 80s, the Dave Brandstetter mysteries. Those books were an essential part of the formation of my gay identity as a twenty-something back in the day. Purchased at the Oscar Wilde Bookstore in Greenwich Village, the Brandstetter books also helped shape my taste in gay literature, which has been a personal specialty of mine for nearly four decades.

Brandstetter was a man of my parents’ generation, and the ways in which he handled his gay identity were, in terms of contemporary popular literature, revolutionary. No shame, no fear, only an unshaken sense of justice and belief in his personal moral compass. These books will always hold a key place in the history of gay writing as well as in detective fiction.

I’m going to propose that Neil Plakcy’s “Mahu” series—what we could call the Kimo Kanapa’aka mysteries—hold an equally important place in 21st-century gay pop literature. I would even place them, in terms of importance, ahead of the Adrien English series by Josh Lanyon, simply because Neil Plakcy uses his own name and is known in his professional circles (college professor) for these books. For all that it is ubiquitous in m/m literature circles, for me pseudonyms will always bring with them all sorts of unpleasant historical associations with shame and fear of retribution. Gore Vidal was raked over the public coals for publishing “The City and the Pillar” in 1948. But he survived and became an icon (albeit a cranky icon) of gay identity and gay literature.

As I tried to think back through all seven books (so far) in Neil Plakcy’s “Mahu” series, I realized that before I started reviewing m/m romances on Amazon and then Goodreads, I wrote what were essentially email mash notes to the authors. Neil was one of the authors who responded warmly to my emails, teaching me the value of writing to authors and (eventually) the importance of writing reviews of every book I read. The chief joy of the internet for me is that we become agents in the success of authors we love.

What captivated me immediately with Kimo Kanapa’aka’s story were two things: his evolving ambivalence about being gay, and the crucial importance in his life of his mixed-race extended Hawai’ian family. In the first book, “Mahu,” we see a closeted Honolulu detective, regretful of his absent love life and fearful of what might happen if the other policemen were to learn his secret. I will drop a bit of a spoiler here—but an unavoidable one—to tell you that the crux of this book, other than the murder itself, is that Kimo has to out himself in order to solve the case. It is this painful and terrifying personal choice that launches the rest of the series, and made me fall in love with this smart, thoughtful, sexy Hawai’ian cop.

Kimo represents the ironic dichotomy of the generation of gay men who could be my sons. In a world where awareness of all things gay is a thousand percent greater than it was in my youth, the ability to control the unveiling of your gay identity is diminished, while many of the anxieties with which coming out is fraught are no less terrifying than they were for my generation. Plakcy evokes this poignantly in “Mahu,” and continues to unpack these issues throughout the rest of the series.

The word “Mahu,” repeated in five of the seven titles so far, is a very specific Hawai’ian word that refers to a third gender. It can be used disparagingly or as a badge of pride, as is the word “queer” today. It also seems to have something of the essence of the mainland Native American concept of “two spirit.” This is just one of the pleasures of this series related to the setting. Plakcy, who lived in Hawai’i for a number of years, makes this American-yet-not-quite-like-the-rest-of-it island state an enormously important part of the story. It is the nature of Hawaii, with its contrasts of beauty and ugliness, its sense of paradise in danger, that colors Kimo’s story and makes the reader yearn to visit (or, in my case, visit again). Just as the Brandstetter mysteries were all about Los Angeles, the “Mahu” series is very much rooted in its place.

In the third book in the series, “Mahu Fire,” Kimo meets Mike Ricchardi, half Italian and half Korean. With kindred ambivalence about his sexuality and his family, Mike becomes an increasingly important player in the narrative arc as each book progresses. I don’t want to reveal either the mystery plots or the complexities of Mike and Kimo’s relationship; but it important to start with “Mahu” and read the books sequentially. In fact the books can stand alone, but they’re more interesting as the large picture of gay life and family life in Hawai’i becomes increasingly complex and rich. The Hawai’ian word “ohana” is important in these books—the idea of family as more than blood kin, emphasizing community, loyalty and unconditional support.

I think, once Prism publishes this, I’m going to post it on all of the books’ Amazon and Goodreads pages: “Mahu,” “Mahu Vice,” “Mahu Surfer,” “Mahu Fire,” “Mahu Blood,” “Natural Predators” and “Zero Break.” There are some completely unmerited negative reviews of Plakcy’s writing by people who clearly devalue the very things that make them special in the world of gay lit.

There’s no accounting for bad reviews and ignorant writers. The internet gives us the power to change things for the writers we love.

Buy Links

MLR Press
Amazon US
All Romance eBooks

This review is based on a copy purchased by the reviewer independent of any review copies offered.

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

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One thought on “Mahu Series by Neil Plakcy ~ Book Review by Ulysses

  1. Thanks for your comments here Ulysses, this is a series I have thought about reading a few times but now it is going on my get asap list!

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