Review by Joey Madia
Originally published in 2012, this collection of eight spooky tales combines the author’s considerable skills as a storyteller specializing in ghost walks with the intimate knowledge he has of Hawaii’s legends, myths, language, and lore. Having been the creative director of a ghost walk on the Crystal Coast of North Carolina for several years, I deeply appreciate the amount of work that goes into researching, memorizing, and performing sometimes as much as ninety minutes’ worth of material on a walk or tour. True storytellers also have much more than that in their heads, waiting for the opportune moment to share a particular story that is perfect for that moment in time.
Kapanui’s writing holds the energy of the master storyteller that he is. I had the pleasure of seeing him on a podcast several months ago, where he shared several Hawaiian legends and I was quick to book him on my own weekly show for June 2021.
Mysteries of Honolulu begins with a story that could very well be true. “Ke Ala Mehameha: The Lonely Road” is a classic Woman in White tale complete with a traveler who picks up a young woman by the side of the road, only to realize that she is a ghost. This one has an interesting revenge component and an extra layer of haunting that gives it a refreshing twist.
The second story, “‘Aina Hanau: Land of My Birth,” begins with the death of the main character’s brother while the former is on vacation in Hawaii. Coming from a close-knit Irish family, the main character, Daniel, helps them prepare for the wake by phone (all agree he should finish his vacation), before talking to a friend about possible communication with his dead brother.
Later that day, he meets a bartender named Kaniala in the hotel lounge and, over several glasses of bourbon, explains how he and his brother, Kenny, were firefighters and Kenny was in great health. His dying young in his sleep makes no sense. Kaniala dispenses wisdom about synchronicity and the nature of death and unfinished business that leads Daniel to an immediate flight home and closure with his brother.
If you are looking for stories with classic cryptids and dangerous creatures of lore, “Waiho: Leave it Alone” features a mermaid-like entity unique to Hawaii called the mo‘o wahine that gets very angry and vengeful should you steal her comb…
One of the more complex of the stories in the collection is “Lua,” centering on a father’s (understandable) desire for revenge for the death of his college-aged daughter, who is assaulted as she exits her car on campus one evening. The daughter, Nicole, is trained in martial arts and holds her own against her three assailants until one of them gets away and runs her over with his car. This story has all the tropes: “ripped from the headlines” aspects of these all-too-common tragedies; boys out on bail because one has a wealthy father and there’s a media push to put it all on Nicole; law enforcement frustrated by their inability to bring justice to the situation (complicated by the father, Daylee, being close friends with the cop, Mike, who delivers the news of Nicole’s death); and the intense grief endured by the parents.
At this point in the story, just post-funeral, the supernatural aspects take over as Mike brings Daylee to an ethereal temple, a heiau, after a strange encounter with the funeral director. Within this sacred space, Daylee sees a shadowy figure from which the story takes its name.
What unfolds from that encounter is a classic horror story of revenge, but with deep, profound roots in the lore of Hawaii and the honoring and dangers of interacting with the spirits that populate its islands. As with any well-told supernatural cautionary tale, the examination of the ultimate price for getting what one wants can be soul-crushingly high.
The author wrote “Nobuo” in the first person, centering on a ghost walk inside of the ‘Iolani Palace. The tour requires special permission and, it being summer, everyone is required to wear white from head to toe. As the tour proceeds, the tour guide encounters the ghost of a Japanese boy—an encounter that is confirmed by a psychic on the tour. At three pages, this is the shortest story but the most emotionally impactful.
In the course of my life, I have heard several stories of how family members devolve into infighting when it comes to objects left by the recently deceased—even going as far as breaking and entering to snatch things up before the rightful inheritor can claim them. In “Na’u: Mine,” the author adds a paranormal twist to create an almost classic whodunit scenario with multiple suspects and a closing letter that provides the surprising reveal.
Grieving a child is a prevalent theme in this collection and the lengths that a parent will go to in order to save their child from paranormal danger is the main theme of “Kalepa.” Having moved back to Hawaii after thirty years, Larry takes his sons for a nostalgic drive and winds up following his instincts to an old building, where the spirits of Hawaiian warriors, called “night watchers,” take his sons. A year later, after being accused of murdering the boys and having suffering abandonment by his wife, Larry calls a fellow Freemason for assistance, evoking a code that leads to a series of events that speak to the depth of a father’s heartbreak and the seriousness with which the honorable adhere to the oaths that they take.
The final story, “Teddy,” is also by far the longest, making up about a quarter of the pages of the collection. Centering on Romanian vampires, this story will appeal to fans of F. Paul Wilson’s The Keep, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, and Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain. However, with its infusion of Hawaiian lore, it brings something new and fun to what can be at times a tired genre.
What I enjoyed most about Mysteries of Honolulu was that I was never sure where reality ended and fiction began. This is certainly the mark of a talented storyteller. If you enjoy cultural tales with an infusion of the supernatural told by a master storyteller, this collection is for you.
TITLE: Mysteries of Honolulu
AUTHOR: Lopaka Kapanui