Thursday, January 7, 2021

Robert McCaw Interview - Death of a Messenger

Photo Credit: Calli P. McCaw

Robert McCaw is the author of Fire and Vengeance, Off the Grid, and Death of a Messenger. McCaw grew up in a military family, traveling the world. He is a graduate of Georgetown University, served as a U.S. Army lieutenant, and earned a law degree from the University of Virginia. He was a partner in a major international law firm in Washington, D.C. and New York City, representing major Wall Street clients in complex civil and criminal cases. Having lived on the Big Island of Hawaii, McCaw imbues his writing of the Islands with his more than 2-year love affair with this Pacific paradise. He now ives in New York City with his wife, Calli.


Greatest thing you learned at school. 
Army Airborne Training and law school—both superbly taught—were the best educational experiences of my life. Airborne training gave me my first lesson in mental toughness. Law school taught me about the genius of the founding fathers in creating the American constitutional system. On the one hand, they recognized that government was necessary for a civilized society. On the other hand, they understood that abuse of authority is one of the most common themes in human history. Their genius lies in their concept of divided governmental powers, establishing three co-equal branches of the federal government and leaving substantial authority at the state level, hoping that each would serve as a check upon others' potential abuses. 

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill? 
On my first visit to the Big Island of Hawaii, I was captivated and began to study the islands, their history, geology, culture, and language. The more I learned, the more I wanted to share my thoughts and impressions. I’d always been a fan of puzzles and mysteries, and I ultimately chose the murder mystery genre as the vehicle to share my passion. That said, because I had a demanding law practice, it took me more than 20 years to publish Death of a Messenger. Perhaps, my persistence reflects the strength of my compulsion to share in my writing stories of the real Hawaii far from the tourist venues for which Hawaii is famous. 

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published. 
It is always rewarding when a reader or a reviewer “gets it” and understands that Death of a Messenger and my other Koa Kane novels are immersive explorations of Hawaii's history, geology, culture, and language and more than murder mysteries and thrillers set amidst an exotic locale. 

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us? 
Oceanview Publishing has contracted to publish the fourth book in the Koa Kane series—Treachery Times Two—in January 2022. The newest story delves deeply into Koa’s criminal background and takes his detective work in cooperation with federal agents protecting our national security in a new direction. 

In your newest book, DEATH OF A MESSENGER (Koa Kāne Hawaiian Mystery #1); can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about the novel? 
In Death of a Messenger, Koa Kane, the Chief Detective in the Hilo, Hawaii, police must discover who killed an unidentified soul and left his mutilated body in a remote lava cave. The novel is a murder mystery, but it is also a story about Koa’s life journey, the historical mysteries surrounding the lives and disappearance of ancient Hawaiian stone tool makers, the threads that connect ancient and modern Hawaii, and the tragedies suffered by the Hawaiian people. 

Your Favorite Quotes/Scenes from DEATH OF A MESSENGER
Five volcanoes (including three that remain active) comprise the Big Island. The ancients did not understand volcanic geology and so turned to myth to explain eruptions and volcanic features. Thus, they gave birth to Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire. Just as the active volcanoes continue to shape the Big Island today, Pele plays a critical role in Death of a Messenger. 

A banner in Hawaiian on Koa’s office wall reads: “Without our ancestors we would not be.” The message articulates a central theme running throughout Death of a Messenger. 

Two love stories are embedded within the book—one involves Koa and his girlfriend, and the other describes the victim and his significant other. The latter relationship began with the Hawaiian legend of the handsome Ohia and the beautiful Lehua. 

Hook Hao, a seven-foot Hawaiian commercial fisherman and fish auctioneer with a knack for relating Hawaiian legends, is a police informer and significant player in the story. 

Death of a Messenger gives readers a taste of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, an outgrowth of Hawaii’s tortured history as a sovereign nation, overthrown and annexed by the US before becoming the 50th State. 

The setting of Death of a Messenger—what I call the real Hawaii, as opposed to the idealized image of the tourist Hawaii—becomes a character in the story, interacting with and shaping the novel’s human characters and their reactions. 

The book concludes with an extraordinary, thrilling scene in a spectacular location. But no spoilers! 

  • Readers will meet a descendant of King Kamehameha, the 1st, who conquered and united the islands, creating the Kingdom of Hawaii. 
  • The world-class telescopes, which dot the summit of Mauna Kea, play a role in the Death of a Messenger. 
  • Readers will meet one of my old Army buddies, recast in the role of Lieutenant Zeigler, the commander of the military police detachment at the Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island. With 109,000 acres, the PTA, as it’s called, is the largest US defense installation in the Pacific. 
  • Sergeant Basa, Koa’s go-to assistant for challenging cases, has a weakness for sweet Hawaiian malasadas and lots of sugar in his coffee. 
  • Koa’s mother is a respected native healer. His father, a lowly but proud sugar worker, was tragically killed in a horrible accident at one of the island’s aging sugar mills. 
  • Readers get a taste of inter-island travel when the investigation takes Koa to Maui and then to the restricted island of Kahoolawe. 
  • Readers will learn about graupel—yes, graupel. 
  • In truth, as well as in the book Hawaii County has no coroner. A local doctor fills that role. In Death of a Messenger, my fictional coroner is an incompetent obstetrician. He’s an even worse poker player. 
  • The summit of Mauna Kea is a place of extremes—at times remarkably beautiful, and at other times one of the most dangerous places on earth. 
  • Zeke Brown, the Hawaii County prosecutor—a composite of many different state and federal prosecutors with whom I’ve dealt as a lawyer—is a recurring character in my Hawaiian mystery series. I hope you enjoy meeting him as much as I enjoyed creating him. If you’re curious, he plays even larger roles in Off the Grid, Fire and Vengeance, and Treachery Times Two. 
Meet the Characters
Koa Kane is a cop with a secret past. As a teenager, he killed his father’s nemesis and covered up the crime. He also has a wayward brother who becomes a career criminal. Thus, Koa’s background makes him an unusual cop, but one with deep motivation and special skills arising from his past. Quoting from the book: “Questions ricocheted in [Koa’s] mind. It was always like that at the beginning of an investigation, and he’d learned to let the questions accumulate unanswered. Questions opened the mind to unlikely possibilities. That and his own secret criminal history were what made him such a good investigator.” 

Nalani is Koa’s significant other. Quoting from the novel: “Nālani lingered in his mind’s eye after he put down the phone—Nālani in that outrageous bikini at the Green Sand Beach, Nālani with the wind tangling her hair on the Kīlauea Iki Trail in Hawai‘i 

Volcanoes National Park, sleepy-eyed, half-naked Nālani waking up in the morning. He wondered how he could be so lucky and worried that his job—and now his damaged neck—were straining their relationship. Although he had eight years on her, he didn’t feel old when he was with her. Yet he wasn’t sure how she felt deep inside about living with a forty-plus-year-old cop. Insecurity was a funny thing . . . it hit you hardest when you had something to lose.” 

Jimmy is an archeologist who helps Koa understand the Island’s history. Quoting from the book: “The barrel-chested man maneuvered the wheelchair, which twisted and bounced like an amusement park ride, over the rugged terrain. How many wheelchairs does this guy destroy in a month? Koa wondered. Jimmy’s upper arms were huge, yet his legs ended above his missing knees in thick rubberized stubs. As if in sympathy, a spear of pain shot down Koa’s right arm.” 

Your Journey to Publication
Oceanview is republishing Death of a Messenger in January 2021 with some additions and changes from the original 2015 publication. Initially, after trying without success to find an agent and publisher, I self-published the book but did so through a premium service that helped me produce a professional product. I’ve heard agents say that it is hard to find a publisher after self-publishing, but that was not my experience. The novel's original publication helped me find an excellent agent in Mel Parker, and he helped me develop a great relationship with Oceanview Publishing. Along the way, my family helped and supported me with encouragement and suggestions. No one was more supportive than my wife, Calli, who is also a talented editor. Friends may have been a bit surprised at my transition from lawyer to the author of fiction but have been extraordinarily generous and encouraging in their support and praise. 

Writing Behind the Scenes
I write on a laptop and use Dropbox, so I never have to worry about losing work through a dreaded computer glitch. I find Grammarly, the online writing assistant and grammar checker, to be quite useful. I’m fond of saying that for me as a novelist, life is research. I am always on the lookout for memorable characters whose appearances, personalities, mannerisms, language, and quirks I can mix-and-match into the fictional people who inhabit my books. Fair warning—if we meet, you may find yourself described in the next story. 

What is the first job you have had? 
Besides family chores, I delivered the Washington Post to about seventy-five neighbors in the community where I lived. I had a large basket for the folded papers on the front of my bicycle and got pretty good at tossing them onto front porches. I also had a giant laundry basket on a sled for the cold, snowy mornings. The monthly agony of collecting the amounts due from my clients was a lot less fun than the daily paper toss. As you may have guessed, this was long before the Internet! 

What is your most memorable travel experience? 
Growing up in a military family, serving in the military, and representing clients with foreign interests or problems, I’ve traveled a great deal. Hands down, the trip that impressed me the most was a cruise to Antarctica and South Georgia Island. The continent’s vastness, ice, weather, and wildlife changed my perspective on life, giving new meaning to the essential things in this world. 

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today? 
After graduating from college, I became an officer in the US Army and served my first tour of duty at Camp Page in South Korea. One day, the camp commandant called me into his office and appointed me (not yet a lawyer) the prosecutor in a special court-martial. This occurred in the days when the rules for special courts-martial provided that the officer serving as defense counsel had to have at least as much legal training as the officer serving as prosecutor. I prepared and tried the case against an officer who had graduated from law school and was a member of the Pennsylvania bar. I lost all the motions but convicted the accused, who was undeniably guilty. In trying my first case, I got hooked on the law and subsequently graduated from law school, clerked for US Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black, and then pursued a challenging legal career. Who knows what I’d have done with my life if I hadn’t had that first taste of jurisprudence. 

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before? 
I see this as a question about risk, and for me, the key to life is managing risk. So, you ask, which would I prefer, the risk of doing nothing (and having nothing) or the risk of experiencing true love knowing that it will end in heartbreak. I would choose true love because the reward of true love is immeasurable, perhaps one of the most rewarding of life’s possible experiences. The pain of future heartbreak would be worth the price. 

If you could be born into history as any famous person who would it be and why? 
I’ve always been fascinated by astronomy. It is the career I didn’t pursue. If I could be any person in history, I’d probably be an astronomer—maybe Galileo or Hubble or Einstein. On the other hand, it might be fun to rule the world as Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great!  

Someone’s found a body at Pohakuloa, the army’s live-fire training area. Bearing all the marks of ancient ritual sacrifice—the murder is the grisliest of Detective Koa Kane's career.

The bizarre case draws Koa deep into his own Hawaiian roots. As Koa probes the victim’s past, he must sort through a rich roster of suspects—grave robbers, native activists, thieves, and star gazers. Koa surmounts a host of obstacles as he pursues the murderer—an incompetent local medical examiner, hostility from haoles (Westerners) and sovereignty advocates, and myriad lies.

Did the victim stumble upon a gang of high-tech archaeological thieves? Or did he learn a secret so shocking it cost him his life and put others, too, in mortal danger? Will Hilo’s most respected native detective catch this fiend in time, or will the killer strike again—with even deadlier consequences?

You can purchase Death of a Messenger at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you ROBERT MCCAW for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Death of a Messenger by Robert B. McCaw.


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