AMBROSE BIERCE AND THE DEATH OF KINGS by Oakley Hall
It is near the end of the 19th century and America's destiny seems to compell it to reach further west, to the independent kingdom of Hawaii, already largely dominated by the descendents of white missionaries now turned merchants and sugar barons. The King of Hawaii is in San Francisco, dying without clear indication of the succession. When a Hawaiina princess vanishes, poet and newspaper columnist Ambrose Bierce is called upon to find her. Bierce, in turn, asks for help from his friend Tom Redmond, the novel's narrator.
From the start, it is clear that there is more than a missing person. Bierce and Redmond run into the woman's sufferage movement, spiritualism, and the powerful force of Hawaiian magic. When a Hawaiian judge is found murdered, Redmond finds himself under attack from Hawaiian magic.
Author Oakley Hall has created a delightful view of America at the turn of an earlier century. Bierce, with his cynical, yet somehow optimistic, view of the world, makes an effective sleuth, doomed to be disappointed by those he attempts to save. Negative historical attitudes toward women and persons of color are integrated into the story without apology yet without any sense of approval either.
As Bierce explains near the end of the novel, all of the clues are available to the reader. Even those mystery readers who guess the killer will enjoy Hall's smooth writing, the depth of historical detail, and the insights into an important historical/literary figure in Ambrose Bierce, turn of the 19th century America, and the end of the history of Hawaii as an independent country.
A well written and completely enjoyable novel.
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