Welcome to Cozy Wednesday!
I am so happy to have Terry Ambrose drop by for a visit!
Kai Palakiko’s smile captivated me the moment I met her. It happened on a flight from San Diego to Honolulu in May 2014. She was ten years old, precocious, and determined to prove her nanny wasn’t a killer. Okay, I didn’t know the last part until long after the flight. But, isn’t that the way it goes with some people? The more we discover, the deeper we want to dig.
Kai isn’t a real person. She’s one of the main characters in “North Shore Nanny,” my sixth Trouble in Paradise McKenna Mystery. Her inspiration was a photo on the cover of Hawaiian Airlines in-flight magazine, Hana Hou. The real subject of the cover photo was a girl standing in front of her purple, red, and white surfboard. She stood about half the height of the board. And, from the moment I saw this “little shredder’s” picture, I knew I had to write about her.
Little shredder is the term used to describe a young surfing sensation in Hawaii. The term came into use because it often looks like these kids are literally shredding the waves. To be truthful, I’m more of a splasher than a shredder.
You see, I’ve only been on a board once in my life and that was because my wife signed me up for a paddleboarding lesson. Paddleboarding involves standing on a surfboard and propelling yourself forward with a paddle. The lesson ended in a minor disaster and some rather embarrassing photos.
The lesson started out well enough—we were on the docks. I was holding my own as three of us knelt on our boards and navigated out into the calm water. Then came the tough part. The instructor wanted us to stand.
“Don’t worry,” he told us, “nobody’s ever fallen in during one of my lessons.”
Emboldened by his success record, I stood. Sort of. I made it up, shaky knees and all. Then, after a few seconds, disaster struck. Splish, splash, that’s me, taking a bath in the Oceanside Marina. Okay, I can’t quite check surfing off my bucket list. And yes, I did ruin our instructor’s perfect record.
So, what’s a non-surfing mystery writer going to do with a precocious, ten-year-old, little shredder? Write a cozy thriller, of course. Laura Childs calls them thrillzies. Whatever we call this type of story, it’s a delicate blend of cozy mystery and elements designed to ramp up the tension.
I knew Kai couldn’t be directly involved with a murder, but she could use her traits to save someone who was. I returned back to an issue that had bothered me from the moment I heard about it—veteran’s benefit scams and shoddy medical care.
What? How’d we go from a kid who surfs to VA benefit scams? Her name is Juliana Rollins and I envisioned her as Kai’s nanny. Juliana is a forty-something, ex-army nurse who was fired after she blew the whistle on abuses in an Army hospital. Juliana grew out of a conversation I’d had while researching a previous book. Here’s the description for “North Shore Nanny,” which shows how a precocious ten-year-old, an army nurse, and a reluctant amateur sleuth all tie together.
McKenna and his friends are taking a sunset cruise off the coast of Honolulu when they discover a stowaway. The stowaway turns out to be ten-year-old Kai Palakiko, one of Oahu’s best young surfers.
Kai insists she needs to hire a private investigator so she can prove her nanny isn’t a murderer. McKenna reminds everyone he’s only an amateur sleuth, not a PI. Kai’s determination and charm endear her to his friends on the cruise and, despite his better judgment, McKenna agrees to help.
Almost immediately, McKenna realizes Kai will be the worst possible client. She’s precocious, strong-willed, and has a nasty habit of interfering in the investigation. He also discovers the woman he’s trying to help appears to be lying about her involvement in the murder. The worst part is she’s somehow involved in a government cover-up involving the US Army and secrets nobody wants unearthed.
The deeper McKenna digs, the more he realizes his fearless client’s commitment to saving her nanny is only the beginning of his trouble in paradise.
So how about you?
Do you like to know the story behind a book? Why the author wrote what he did?
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