Having been brought up on crime novels, I can be a bit particular about books in the genre. With the genre saturated with middle-aged, white male detectives with failed marriages and a penchant for the bottle, few protagonists in crime novels are memorable enough for me to sit up and take notice of them.
Lei Texeira is one such protagonist. Far from being just a pretty face (and a pretty name!), Leilani Texeira is a plucky, intrepid policewoman haunted by her past. Driven and ambitious, Lei aspires to ditch her uniform to become a detective, but her impulsive initiative and stubbornness can sometimes land her in more trouble than she can handle. A strong and kick-butt heroine in a genre populated by male detectives, Lei nevertheless has a vulnerable side, as she struggles to let go of her past as a victim of child abuse. Ms. Neal's background as a mental health therapist definitely helped in portraying a determined but troubled character, adding realism and depth to a complex and compelling heroine.
Now to the story: Blood Orchids centres around the double murder of two high school girls. As officer Lei Texeira pursues the case, she herself is pursued by a stalker. The story is gripping, with heaps of action, and Ms. Neal did a fantastic job pacing the story, revealing nuggets of information one layer at a time. Whilst I mentally patted myself on the back when I correctly identified the killer, I certainly did not foresee that the story didn't end there! No spoilers here, but suffice it to say that what I initially thought was a predictable read, became far from it in the end, and that Lei's troubles were far from over!
Sure, at some points in the story, I did wonder, "Wow, what are the odds of all this misery befalling one single person?" But Ms. Neal's fast-paced writing left me little time to stop and think as it sweeps me along, and her very vivid portrayal of Lei's damaged psyche makes everything seem all the more believable.
With a riveting plot, intense action and drama, and vivid writing, what really made Blood Orchids for me, are the characters. Set in sunny and exotic Hawaii, Ms. Neal brings Big Island living to the masses with her rich portrayal of the island state's diverse peoples and cultures: Native Hawaiians, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos... the occasional inclusion of pidgin English adds flavour to the story, bringing the setting to life. My favourite characters include Pono, Lei's partner, and Keiki, Lei's faithful Rottweiler. Lei's budding romance with Detective Stevens made for some tender moments, and I am looking forward to seeing where their relationship will take them in the coming books -- yes, there are other books in the making! Lei Texeira will be back, and I for one am looking forward to it!
If you enjoy a taut murder mystery with some Big Island flavour, if you like your heroines to be strong yet vulnerable, and if you enjoy your stories dark, but laced with hope, then Blood Orchids is definitely for you!