In Robert McCaw’s novel, OFF THE GRID, a scrap of cloth fluttering in the wind leads Hilo police Chief Detective Koa Kāne to the tortured remains left to burn in the path of an advancing lava flow. For Koa, it’s the second gruesome homicide of the day, and he soon discovers the murders are linked. These grisly crimes on Hawaiʻi’s Big Island could rewrite history—or cost Chief Detective Koa Kāne his career.
The dead, a reclusive couple living off the grid, turn out to be mysterious fugitives. The CIA, the Chinese government, and the Defense Intelligence Agency, attempt to thwart Koa’s investigation and obscure the victims’ true identities. Undeterred by mounting political pressure, Koa pursues the truth only to find himself drawn into a web of international intrigue.
While Koa investigates, the Big Island scrambles to prepare for the biggest and most explosive political rally in its history. Despite police resources stretched to the breaking point, Koa uncovers a government conspiracy so shocking its exposure topples senior officials far beyond Hawaiʻi’s shores.
Robert took some time to answer a few of our questions about writing and Hawaii.
CR: Love title and cover. So many tough elements create beautiful tableau. A metaphor for Hawaii? Tell us about the title and novel, OFF THE GRID.
RM: While the cover is a metaphor for Hawaii, it’s not the “tourist” Hawaii, but rather the remote and hidden Hawaii where a man and a woman can go off, not just the electrical grid, but off society’s radar altogether. Foregoing credit cards, identity papers, land records and tax returns, they can hide from their past. But can we ever escape our past? And, if not, what happens when our shockingly ugly history comes to light?
CR: “A thriller with Int’l repercussions” …. hooked me immediately. Explain popularity of genre?
RM: Mystery, action, tension, and suspense are the mainstays of thrillers, and international conflicts with their threats of mass retaliation and war inevitably heighten tension and suspense. When countries or cultures confront conflict the paths to unanticipated actions, reactions, and violence proliferate. Risks increase. Predictions go awry. It is a rich and rewarding terrain for writers . . . and readers.
CR: You grew up in military family and traveled the world. Tell us about your research.
RM: In a way, I have been researching for my entire life. I learned much about both the
military and the law from my father, a career Army JAG officer, and from my own
military service where I tried my first courts-martial case. My clerkship with US Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black and my legal practice taught me about judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, criminal investigators, interrogations, and courtroom tactics.
RM: Twenty years of living part time in Hawaii among many dear friends taught me about Hawaiian history, language, and culture, as well as social conflicts that few tourists ever see. That said, I generally visit every place my characters inhabit and research aspects of every scene. I’m no stranger to books, libraries, newspaper archives, and friends who talk story in the rich tradition of a culture that lacked a written language before the missionaries arrived in the 1800s.
CR: You’re following the path many have traveled before you … Lawyer to novelist. What’s different about your protagonist? If made into movie, who would you like to see play him?
RM: Authenticity is the key. Off the Grid takes place in the real Hawaii, far away from
Waikiki. The settings are real places, the cultural background is steeped in research and
reflects the extraordinary ethnic diversity of the islands. Fragments of genuine Hawaiian
language, including some pidgin Hawaiian, appear in context. The metaphors are those
Hawaiian’s might use. The movie must have a star with a Hawaiian heritage—like Keanu Reeves (FYI: I’m TOTALLY for Keanu), whose father was born in Hawaii and whose name in Hawaiian means “cool breeze over the mountains.”
CR: I’ve been to various Hawaiian Islands nearly two dozen times. Why set your novel there? What makes it so special?
RM: Although generally not a superstitious person, when I first visited Hawaii, I felt a kind of energy radiating from the mountains and it captivated me. That and the night sky. A star-gazing tour to the 14,000-foot top of Mauna Kea left me speechless, and I was hooked. I began reading everything I could find about Hawaii and its cultural history, I visited as often as possible, built a home there, and met many wonderful people.
CR: Who do you read?
RM: I read a lot – Michael Connolly, Daniel Silva, Jane Harper, Linda Fairstein, Greg Iles,
Gregg Hurwitz, Joy Ellis, Linda Castillo, Lee Child, Martin Walker, Steve Berry, Jon
Land, and non-fiction as well.
CR: Anything you’d like to add?
RM: My life in Hawaii reinforced the respect for ethnic and cultural diversity ingrained in me through my travels and experiences as a child growing up in a military family. That is not to say that Hawaii is free from cultural conflict . . . most assuredly that’s not the case, especially given the way Hawaii lost its sovereignty and nearly lost its language. Still, there is a kind of mutual respect and aloha that more places would do well to emulate.
MORE ABOUT ROBERT FROM ROBERT:
I’ve always been fascinated by puzzles. As a math major at Georgetown University, finding solutions to complex mathematical problems was a big high. But the mostly self-contained career aspects of a mathematician left much to be desired, so I looked elsewhere. After college, inspired by my dad who was a career JAG officer with the US Army, I entered the Army as a Second Lieutenant. After basic training, the Army ordered me to Camp Page in Chuncheon, South Korea. One day the camp commandant summoned me to his office, handed me the Army courts-martial manual, and appointed me the prosecutor in a case against a misbehaving soldier. Back then, the rules for such cases required only that the defense counsel have at least as much legal training as the prosecutor—a rule easily met since I had none!
I proceeded to try the case against a fully qualified member of the Pennsylvania bar, making what I now know were the cringe-worthy mistakes of a newbie. Although the pro won all the motions, some of which went over my head, I won the case, and the guilty solder got the maximum sentence. Having tried and won my first case – solving a real-life puzzle – I was hooked.
I knew from that day on that I wanted to be a lawyer, and so began a legal career I pursued and loved for 40-years. Along the way I graduated from the University of Virginia Law School, had the honor to clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black, and rose to partnership in a major U.S. law firm, ultimately opening its New York office..
Adding balance to my life, I had the good fortune to visit and fall in love with Hawaii. I took a star-gazing tour atop the Mauna Kea volcano, the tallest mountain on the Big Island of Hawaii capped with many of the world’s finest observatories. Again, I was hooked. A friendship with a member of the astronomy program in college had exposed me to the science of the cosmos and although astronomy was the career I didn’t pursue, it still captivated me years later. On repeated vacation trips to Hawaii, I toted a portable telescope up the slopes of Mauna Kea before ultimately choosing to build a second home – complete with a small observatory – on the Big Island.
In my scant free time, I studied Hawaiian history, language, and culture becoming intrigued by the richness of the land and people that served as hosts for the many astronomers in Hawaii. While still pursuing an active legal practice, I began to write, choosing the mystery genre to share what I had learned about the ancient Polynesians and their Hawaiian descendants. I intertwined Hawaiian history and archeology with the search for answers to the murder mysteries I conjured up. Many friends and acquaintances from Hawaii shared their insights and experiences with me for which I am most grateful. My first novel languished over the years and between vacations, put aside countless times under the constraints of my intense legal career. When I retired, things were different and I finally dedicated myself to finishing my first novel. Again, I was hooked! And so it continues . . .
As a trial lawyer, one is mostly confined to a set of provable facts. Stray too far from the evidentiary record, and you lose credibility with the judge or jury. Not so as a novelist. If the facts don’t paint the desired picture, fiction writers are free to set the stage and write the history of characters as they see fit. It’s wonderfully liberating, but not without its challenges. Stray too far from the believable and you lose credibility with your readers. But, again, those are puzzles to be solved . . .
Thanks to FSB Associates, we have one book to give away. Just tell us what thriller you’re looking forward to reading this summer. We’ll announce a winner soon. Good luck.
GIVEAWAY: USA only, please. Mahalo!