Big Island

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Born and reared in Hawaii, Jim Yamasaki is of mixed Japanese, native, and Caucasian parentage, a background which casts him in the role of outcast. A tour of duty with the Marines in Vietnam changed his life, teaching him the techniques of weapons and killing, powerful knowledge that was reinforced by the nature of the service--the Marines did not care what color he was as long as he could perform effectively as a soldier. Like many infantrymen returning to the United States after the war, he procured employment based on his only marketable skills: He joined the police force. An intimidating figure at 260 pounds, Jim is a complex, cynical man who believes that “God is there to maximize human suffering as part of an extremely complicated practical joke.”

The plot begins when four young men, acting as missionaries for the Mormon church, apparently blunder into a marijuana field and are brutally murdered. Jim hunts down and kills the murderers in order to avoid publicity for the drug trade he and an old friend from Thailand administer with all the efficiency of a corporate business operation. The plot quickly becomes intricate and puzzling: Were the Mormon missionaries, clean-cut youngsters dressed in business suits, in fact exploiting their image as a cover for a worldwide drug operation? Were they couriers for an organization directed by the Mormon church in Utah? Eventually, Jim himself becomes a hunted man, with the Mormons, the drug underworld, and even the Japanese Yazuka gangs in pursuit.

Definitely not for the squeamish, this taut action yarn pulls no punches in depicting the violent world of a corrupt police chief in the deceptively beautiful Hawaiian setting. Jim’s Japanese girlfriend is a heroin addict whose injections he helps to prepare; he is haunted by nightmares about Vietnam, and the book’s chapters alternate between the present and his wartime experiences. The parallel between his present line of work and actual combat with the marines is effectively drawn and considering the brutal nature of each, the rampant violence is entirely appropriate.

The novel is told in Jim’s voice, and he is a difficult person to judge. Genuinely concerned about his island homeland, Jim is a contradictory mixture of rough chivalry and valueless opportunism. He is a unique and exciting creation of a first novelist who shows much promise.