Book Review: Mai Tai One On by Jill Marie Landis (series, #1)
Newly-divorced Em jumps at the chance to move to Kauai, Hawaii to assist her aging uncle in running his tiki bar. She hires a young, punk-style waitress who seems to be running from bad choices, and she gets to know the aging hula dance group that performs for free (it’s not like anyone would willingly pay them). Em is managing to increase business for the tiki bar and is starting to feel refreshed from her new life when the tiki bar’s neighbor shows up dead in their barbeque pit–with a machete slash through his skull. The gorgeous fire knife spinning detective Roland sees Em, the waitress, and her Uncle Louie as the prime suspects, so clearly Em and the hula group must work together to find the real culprit.
This was my first foray into the fairly newish cozy mystery genre. A cozy mystery is one involving something violent, but the violence is never particularly shown in a gruesome way, and the characters handle the situation in a humorous fashion. It’s kind of like a modern version of Agatha Christie. They also are really well-known for having puns in the titles. (Another one that springs to mind is The Long Quiche Goodbye, which features a murder in a….wait for it….cheese shop).
So what about this particular cozy? Well, the pun in the title is cute but doesn’t really have anything to do with the story. I can’t quite figure out what, exactly, is supposedly being tied on or tied up or what have you. No one is killed by ties. Basically, the title is a bit witty, but confusing.
The humor is excellent. I found myself laughing out loud multiple times while reading. In fact, this is the strong point of the book. Think of the wittiest, snarkiest person you know, then imagine that everyone around you has that same sense of humor. It’s delightfully funny and relaxing.
The characterization ranges from really well-done to painfully one-dimensional or lacking in vividness. For instance, all of the Hula Maidens are richly drawn elderly women who still have a lot of spunk and life left in them. Yet the main character, Em, is so dull that I kept mixing her up with the waitress. Similarly, some characters are so over-the-top as to be a bit offensive. For instance, a new addition to the island are Fernando and his boyfriend Wally who are both quite possibly the most flamboyant characters I’ve ever seen in a novel. Now, given the extremes of the Hula Maidens, that’s fine, but Wally is never given another element to his character. Whereas it is later revealed that a lot of Fernando’s flamboyance is an act for his career, Wally is such a gay stereotype he even repeatedly faints and is never given any other realm of possibility besides fabulous gay boyfriend. This is odd because the situation certainly arose to make him more compelling and well-rounded without diverting from the main storyline. Although I appreciate the inclusion of gay characters in the book that the other characters simply accept, I do wish Landis had been a bit more careful with her characterization of them.
The mystery itself isn’t too mysterious. Landis’s one attempt at misleading the reader into believing someone else is the murderer is so obvious as to be painful. I actually cringed on her behalf when reading the passage. The characters and humor are allowed to be obvious, but the mystery shouldn’t be.
I can give a pass to both of those issues considering that this is a cozy, and from what I’ve heard from friends who are fans, these sort of things are common in them. The one big problem though is that this book sorely, direly needed better editing. There were mistakes everywhere, which is baffling considering it comes from a publishing house (who supposedly are better because of the “professional” way they handle things….but that’s an issue for a different post). There were multiple sentences with verbs in the wrong location or written twice. Spelling errors and typos were present throughout. This really distracted me from my enjoyment of the story, because the flow would be interrupted while I double-checked that I read the sentence correctly. There is simply no excuse for such shoddy editing, although it is obviously the fault of the publishing house and editor, not the author.
These things said, though, looking at the book overall, it is still an enjoyable read. Ignoring the editing issues, it is an enjoyable cozy, but not an amazing one. The setting and rambunctious characters of the Hula Maidens hold much promise for future entries in the series. Hopefully it will go uphill from here. I recommend it to people who already know they are fans of cozies, but those who are uncertain should probably give it a pass.
3 out of 5 stars