‘Retribution’: Detective Koa Kāne is back in La Jolla author Robert McCaw’s fifth Hawaiian mystery book

"Retribution" is the fifth book in La Jollan Robert McCaw's series of mysteries set in Hawaii.
(Robert McCaw)

Keeping Hawaii as a central character, La Jolla resident Robert McCaw has written his fifth book in a series of mysteries featuring island love, law and loyalty.

“Retribution,” the next installment of the Koa Kāne Hawaiian mysteries, will be released Tuesday, June 6.

Warwick’s bookstore in La Jolla will present McCaw in a free discussion of “Retribution” at 4 p.m. Tuesday, June 13, online. For more information, visit

“Retribution” is a combination of mystery and thriller, McCaw said, again featuring Hilo police Detective Koa Kāne as the protagonist.

In this installment, Kāne’s family, colleagues, significant other and friends “are all subjected to some form of attack,” McCaw said.

As the plot progresses, “it becomes clearer and clearer to [Kāne] that he himself is the ultimate target of whatever sinister forces are at work,” the author said. The rest of the book is “a race against time … to figure out who’s behind all of this and to prevent his own death.”

The island of Hawaii is a central character in Robert McCaw's Koa Kāne mystery books.
(Calli P. McCaw)

McCaw said he hopes readers come away with a sense of “the extraordinary loyalty that [Kāne] evokes in the people around him [and] his just unbelievable tenacity in pursuing leads and pushing his investigations as far as possible.”

“Retribution” echoes previous series installments, not only through the recurrence of human characters but also its setting on the island of Hawaii, which McCaw emphasizes is a character in its geography and the language and culture of its people.

Hawaii integrates many Pacific island cultures and “is one of the most diverse of all of our societies,” McCaw said. “It makes for a very interesting place.”

Each of the books in the mystery series has focused on a different part of the island. “Retribution” highlights the volcano Mauna Loa and South Point, the southernmost tip of the United States.

McCaw, who has lived on Hawaii but now splits his time between La Jolla and New York, said he always has had a “love affair” with the island.

Having heavily researched Hawaii early on, he “had to decide how I wanted to present this. I could have written a non-fiction book about Hawaii, but that probably would have been pretty dull,” he said.

McCaw, a lawyer for decades, said much of his legal career involved investigations. “That’s a lot like detective work, and I decided I wanted to tell my Hawaii stories through a murder mystery, through a detective.”

His books also make reference to the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, a political campaign to reclaim self-governance.

“One of the interesting aspects of the … movement is that it might be a whole lot more effective if the people who are in it could agree on a strategy,” McCaw said. “There’s a lot of tension within that group.”

When he’s asked for writing advice, McCaw said, he tells people “to write what they know. That inevitably involves a bit of biography. You will see pieces of me in the book. One of those pieces is this joy I get from being around the ocean. There’s almost always a bit of an ocean connection in all the books.”

“The way people talk, the funny expressions they use ... their little things, gestures, all are in my bag of tricks,” he said. “When I’m trying to create a new character … I wonder what this person looks like, what are their peculiarities.”

After “Retribution,” McCaw will write again — more stories with Kāne and some without.

“I was a lawyer in Washington and New York for a long time,” he said. “I did a lot of legal work that interfaced in one way or another with the government. And I’ve toyed with the notion of trying to do something with that side of my life.

“That would involve creating a whole new set of characters, and that, too, is fun. I’ve got several projects on the burner.” ◆