Mike Bond’s 2012 novel takes place in the Hawaiian islands, and moves at a fast pace from the first page, when a corpse drifts in to the Oahu surf. At times the pace seems a little too fast; the first-person narrator, a professional surfer and Special Forces veteran named Pono Hawkins, hops between islands with the ease of a superhero.
Hawkins is a passionate defender of Hawaii’s natural beauty, and expresses justifiable outrage over America’s treatment of the land and its people. There is a wholly appropriate disdain for the missionaries who “civilized” the Hawaiians that was sorely lacking in the James Michener and Sarah Vowell books about the state.
The plot revolves around an alternative energy project called Big Wind, which was also the name of an actual proposed project in Hawaii from the early years of this decade. Big Wind would have installed hundreds of windmills on the islands of Molokai and Lanai, and provided power to Oahu (the state’s most populous island, home to Honolulu and Pearl Harbor) through an underseas cable. This absurd idea was eventually abandoned after citizens rallied against it, and “Saving Paradise” adds sinister elements to its version of Big Wind, making it a viper’s nest of criminal business and political corruption.
And while it’s always dangerous to assign authorial intention to a work of fiction (back in my graduate student days this was called the “intentional fallacy”), there’s more than enough circumstantial evidence to suggest “Saving Paradise” is partly a personal diatribe against wind power. Enter Mike Bond windmills in a search engine, and one of the first links will be to the author’s blog, where he claims wind power actually increases fossil fuel usage, has devastating ecological impacts, and are only touted as “green” projects by politicians bought off by multinational corporations. Bond’s arguments rely more on invective and innuendo than on data — in the unlikely event of his reading this review, he’ll likely respond that my last statement shows how I’ve been brainwashed by the corporate media — and their appearance in in this novel represent an unfortunate and unnecessary distraction. Hawkins’ struggle against corruption and intimidation would have been just as poignant if the author had chosen to, quite literally, battle windmills.
Yet the novel’s positive qualities outweigh flaws such as its ending, which comes out of nowhere, as if the author was facing an inflexible word count limit. Pono Hawkins is an engaging guide to Hawaii, and his humanity and innate goodness make the reader hope for his success. His personal relationships are a mess, but he treats his male allies and his female love interests with equal respect. And the action is brisk, as stated previously, and the writing polished and highly descriptive. Overall, “Saving Paradise” is a good thriller which can be enjoyed by any fan of the genre, so long as that fan doesn’t take the author’s overt agenda against wind power too seriously.