For March’s meeting of the Mystery Book Club, we are reading Five Decembers by James Kestrel. Join us to discuss Five Decembers on Thursday, March 16 at 7pm at Davis Library and virtually through Zoom. If you would like to attend the meeting virtually, please register here.
Five Decembers by James Kestrel
December 1941. America teeters on the brink of war, and in Honolulu, Hawaii, police detective Joe McGrady is assigned to investigate a homicide that will change his life forever. The trail of murder he uncovers will lead him across the Pacific, far from home and the woman he loves; and though the U.S. doesn’t know it yet, a Japanese fleet is already steaming toward Pearl Harbor.
This extraordinary novel is so much more than just a gripping crime story—it’s a story of survival against all odds, of love and loss, and the human cost of war. Spanning the entirety of World War II, Five Decembers is a beautiful, masterful, powerful novel that will live in your memory forever.
A Honolulu cop’s search for an unusually brutal killer is upended by the arrival of World War II, which puts his investigation on hold and adds an epic dimension to his quest. Called over Thanksgiving weekend 1941 to a shed where an unknown young White man has been gutted and hung upside down, Detective Joe McGrady soon finds a second butchered corpse, that of a bound, naked Asian woman whose throat has been cut with the same Mark I model trench knife, and creates a third when he returns to the scene and wins a gunfight with a nameless scar-faced man. Capt. J.H. Beamer, who puts McGrady in charge of the case, clearly doesn’t like or trust him and keeps him on a short leash because the first dead man’s uncle, Adm. Kimmel, pulls a lot of weight, and his moneyed associate, John Francis Kincaid, even more. Acting on evidence McGrady’s unearthed, Beamer sends him to Hong Kong in search of the mysterious John Smith, who’s become the leading suspect. The morning after McGrady arrives, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, cutting off any hope of his return home, and his trip stretches out to three years, first as a prisoner of the Hong Kong Police when Smith frames him for aggravated rape, then as a fugitive in the Tokyo home of Takahashi Kansei, the dead woman’s pacifist uncle in the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Exposed to a bewildering variety of people, locations, and beliefs, McGrady miraculously manages not only to keep his cool in a world gone mad, but to return to Honolulu, where he was reported dead long ago, and close the case. Kestrel’s expertly clipped descriptive passages and dialogue bring his spacious canvas into razor-sharp focus. – Kirkus
McGrady is a terrific protagonist, smart but willing to keep learning, tough but capable of letting experience guide him to becoming a better person. The losses he experiences are heart-rending, but no less so are the genuine hurts of the people he encounters as he closes in on a cold-blooded killer. The raw emotion of the book only serves to make the noir mystery at its core that much more compelling, as it deftly uses the reader’s expectations to devastating effect. Written in spare prose that conveys beauty and brutality in equal, eloquent measure, Five Decembers is an extraordinary novel of wartime crime and justice and loves lost and refound. – Criminal Element
Formerly a bar owner, a criminal defense investigator, and an English teacher, James Kestrel is now an attorney practicing throughout the Pacific. His writing has won advance praise from Stephen King, James Patterson, Dennis Lehane, Lee Child, Meg Gardiner, James Fallows, Pico Iyer, and numerous other authors. A sailor and world traveler, Kestrel has lived in Taiwan, New Orleans, and a West Texas ghost town. He lives in Volcano, Hawaii.
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