- Daughters of Fire by Tom Peek
One of the newest books from Arnie Kotler’s groundbreaking Koa Books is Tom Peek’s debut novel, Daughters of Fire. Gracing its cover is the much-celebrated painting by the late Herb Kawainui Kane, Pele, Goddess of Volcanoes. A tightly woven work of fiction, Peek’s book is attracting deserved recognition. In 2013 the Independent Book Publishers Association awarded Peek the Benjamin Franklin Silver Medal for Popular Fiction for this work. Daughters of Fire voices a trenchant critique of the politics of development during the period following Hawai‘i’s “statehood” and brings the potent effects of discourses such as economics, tourism, science, and technology into direct dialogue with the profoundly spiritual aspects of the volcanic ‘āina (land) of Hawai‘i Island.
The story begins when Gavin McCall, an Australian astronomer, pays a visit to Hawaiian archaeologist Maile Chow in order to learn about volcanoes—the subject of his own research is a volcano named Pele on a moon of Jupiter. The budding romance between the two scientists, native and nonnative, leads them to witness a murder on the active lava flows near Kalapana. Also witness to the murder is a young photographer from Minnesota, Jimmy Andersen, who seeks refuge with another expat Minnesotan, Captain Jack. With the help of the fisherman Aka Kaikala, Maile, and Gavin, Captain Jack [End Page 247] works to rescue the photographer from the tangled net of crime. Solving the murder leads the group—and the reader—through a thicket of political intrigue, investigating the unspoken connections between developers, politicians, and the local syndicate. These parties are connected in the novel by Andy Lankowski, a veteran political infighter who has offered his services to the weak governor, Calvin Kamali‘i. The narrator provides this finely etched characterization of Lankowski: “But [his] loyalties lay with the haole [white people], and he sensed—like the mongoose who knows when a nest is unattended—that eggs were available for the snatching. The governor, by that time weary of criticism … gladly accepted the offer of a man who could prowl his way around the shadowed corners of the unseemly establishment” (60). But the main character of the novel, one must acknowledge, is Pele herself. It is she who upends the plans of a developer, Conway, whose mega-resort on the slopes of Hualalai is threatened by a volcanic eruption and earthquake at its grand opening.
Peek brings the advantage of several lifetimes to his debut novel. Prior to coming to the islands, he specialized in energy and technology planning as well as economic and environmental sustainability—long before these terms became buzzwords for a new kind of developmentalism. For close to a decade he worked for the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, writing public policy studies and articles on energy, environmental issues, public finance, and education. Becoming disillusioned with the world of economics and politics, he found his way to the Pacific on a sailboat, eventually landing in Fiji just as Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka’s soldiers were engaged in the second 1987 coup. Later, in Hawai‘i, he worked as a mountain and astronomy guide at Hale Pohaku on Mauna Kea as well as in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, where he served as an eruption duty ranger on the active lava flows. He was also the primary writer for the new exhibits in the Kīlauea Visitor Center and consulted regularly with the park’s Kūpuna (Elders) Council. Daughters of Fire contains illustrations by the celebrated artist John D Dawson, known for his lifelike commissioned paintings and sketches of animals and plants for National Geographic, the US Postal Service, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park.
Daughters of Fire is a book whose most immediate strengths lie in its wide popular appeal and its mixture of romantic adventure tale and noir. Even more, however, it is Peek’s keen sense of place that nourishes the lives of his characters...