Detective Joe McGrady is the low-man on the totem pole in the Honolulu PD, so he’s the one who gets the call when a thankless case comes up on the night before Thanksgiving, 1941. Two bodies have been brutally mutilated in a decrepit shack, one a white American male and the other a Japanese female. But when it comes out that one of the victims is related to a powerful Admiral, McGrady finds himself embroiled in the case of a lifetime. He pursues his main suspect across the Pacific, just in time to be caught in the lurch when Pearl Harbor is bombed and war breaks out.
Kestrel (which is actually a pseudonym of the writer Jonathan Moore) follows McGrady through his desperate struggle to survive the war with the help of some unlikely allies. Through it all he has one thing driving him, his need to get back to the case and get vengeance on the killer. McGrady is a fairly typical noir protagonist, complete with tragic backstory, persistent drinking, and a gruff way with words. He’s also courageous, chivalrous, and easy to root for.
The most impressive part of Five Decembers is Kestrel’s command of setting. He ably conjures up the atmosphere of the 1940s in both Hawaii and abroad. The book feels like it was written by someone who was actually there. For fans of classic hardboiled detective stories, Five Decembers is about as good as you’re going to find from a modern writer.