A few years back we were making plans to visit our God-daughter who lived in Hawaii. So to get in the mood we began watching Hawaii Five-O, the original with Jack Lord, which was first on TV in 1968 and lasted until 1980. Then we though what the heck let's look at Hawai'i Five-0, the undoubtedly inadequate reboot from 2010. And we fell in love. With Danny Williams, played by James Caan's son, Scott Caan, and with Chin Ho Kelly, played by Daniel Dae Kim, and with the rest of the crowd from Kono to Danny's daughter, Grace.
In the original we were particularly fond of a certain phone booth which showed up all over the Islands wherever it was needed. And an ambulance that was repainted from week to week to represent various hospitals. And the Byodo-In Temple, scene of the crisis of some of the best stories and was like the phone booth and the ambulance almost a character in the show. But I think our favorite was Wo Fat, an arch-villain, named for a Honolulu restaurant. I didn't think anybody could possibly embody Wo Fat the way Khigh Dhiegh did. Well, Mark Dacascos has beaten the odds and is even better than Dhiegh. The character himself remains as elusive and enigmatic as the original.
Much as we love these TV programs I would really like to see the Charlie Chan stories brought to life. Masi Oka, who plays Dr Max Bergmann, would make a splendid Charlie Chan. The first of the books by Earl Derr Biggers was The House Without a Key (which was also named after a Honolulu restaurant) and it is what we now call cinematic - a very visual story. Here's my review of the book from 2011.
1925 Hawaii was an idyllic sort of place, a place where a straight-laced New England Puritan could lose himself in the heady scent of night blooms and the sunset gilding of the sea. And that’s just what happens to John Quincy Winterslip, a Boston bond dealer who is sent by the family to fetch home his aunt, who left months ago for a visit and hasn’t come home.
His ship arrives in the evening and because of bureaucratic red tape (yes, even in Hawaii Territory in 1925) the ship has to sit outside the reef overnight and land in the morning. When he does go ashore, John Quincy discovers his wealthy uncle Dan, a controversial figure in Honolulu whose fortune is thought to have been acquired through nefarious means, has been murdered during the night. The only clue is a watch with a phosphorescent dial on which the number two is faded.
The police arrive, and among them is Charlie Chan, the finest detective on the island. As he investigates, Charlie finds some additional clues, including an ornate dagger, a jeweled brooch, the stub from an unusual brand of cigarette, and more. It turns out there were quite a few visitors the night Dan was killed, and with John Quincy’s help the police turn up numerous motives for wanting Dan dead.
This is Hawaii and so there are lots of Hawaiian words, a visit to a luau, swimming and surfboarding, leis and muumuus, and the light blinking on Diamond Head. Hawaii being the original multicultural Eden, there are not just Hawaiians and mainland Anglos, but also Japanese and Chinese, Spanish and Portuguese, English and Irish. And because this is Eden, Dan’s house on Waikiki is a house without a key.
This mystery is very dated and filled with atmosphere, Charlie Chan is a minor character but an important one, and the complicated plot comes to a satisfactory ending. The bad guys go to jail, the good guys come into some money, and the guy gets the girl. You'll have to read the book to find out which girl.