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by Elizabeth Hand
Mulholland, July 2022
400 pages
ISBN: 0316542040

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Feeling at loose ends when his work as a carpenter in Maine is paused because of the pandemic shutdown, Grady Kendall applies for a caretaker job in Hawaii and to his surprise, is hired. He arrives, knowing nobody but a woman he met on the flight, and is soon immersed in an isolated and strange tropical world. His boss, an eccentric billionaire, is mostly absent, spending his time at a private camp at the tip of the peninsula he owns. Grady is spooked by the lushness of the rugged tropical landscape, by the enforced solitude of a two-week quarantine period, and by the strange creature he spots outside his cabin on his first sleepless night, a dog that walks upright and has strange eyes.

The dog isn't the only unsettling thing about the estate. The billionaire keeps an aquarium full of beautiful and deadly endangered sea urchins and an aviary full of exotic birds, including ones that are supposedly extinct. After hearing what might be screams down by the rocky shore, Grady climbs down to the water to discover a hidden sea cave where indigenous people once carved petroglyphs into the rock; someone has defaced the site by jackhammering out one of the symbols. Grady senses the land has some sort of traditional power that he doesn't understand.

On the trip from the airport, Grady spotted a derelict building from World War II that has a long list of names painted on it. Dalita, the former caretaker and Hawaiian native who interprets the island's mysteries for him, explains they are the missing. "People disappear here," she tells him. Before long, he learns that the woman he met on the plane is among them. With too many odd and disturbing things happening around him, Grady decides he needs to find out what happened to her.

Elizabeth Hand can be counted on to mix her genres, and she infuses her mysteries with elements of the bizarre and grotesque. Here, a missing person case is folded into science fiction, with a liberal dose of horror for flavor. It's all steeped in the weird loneliness and uncertainty of the first months of the pandemic, when an unknown virus turned lives upside down. The pacing in the first half of the book is slow, perhaps mirroring the dragging isolation of our common trauma, but it's a relief when it picks up, as Grady delves into the multiple mysteries shrouding the billionaire's wild, secluded estate. It's altogether a strange, unsettling, but memorable journey.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, July 2022

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