The torrential rains of Hurricane Ida pour far too much water into Hualālai Mountain’s volcanic crater, where it flashes into steam under incredible pressure. One of the volcano’s vents is under KonaWili elementary school, where hundreds of students and teachers are enveloped in yellow sulfuric smoke and white-hot temperatures. As Hilo Chief Detective Koa Kane is helicoptered to the scene, he’s sickened by the sight of so many injured and dead children, or keiki: ”red tags for the critical, and black tags for the dead. Way too many red and black tags.”
A bomb squad robot helps police and firefighters explore the building, where they find inexplicable evidence like a fireproof steel classroom door and a 60-foot-long basement chamber with six-foot-thick concrete walls. The first responders have found visible proof that the building contractor knew the school was situated over a volcanic vent and fruitlessly tried to create barriers against inevitable explosions, for which there are no manmade defenses.
Kane and his rock-solid sergeant, Basa, begin investigating the crime at the express order of Governor Bobbie Mahoe, since the Hilo police chief is in California for surgery. They soon find the building contractor dead, hanging from an electrical cord in his spacious home, and the Micronesian excavator & grader he hired, dying of cancer, confirms that he showed Boyle the active vent. He was given a large bonus to stay quiet, a bonus so large it allowed him to purchase his dirt farm littered with dead bulldozers, rickety houses, and small children. However, he notes sadly, Pele has taken her revenge: his grandson was one of the children who died inside the school.
Not long afterward, the school’s architect, Arthur Witherspoon, is shot dead at point-blank range in his home’s doorway. By that time, it’s clear to Kane and Basu that a massive, murderous cover-up is underway. A well-known developer and a retired county planning official are in the crosshairs, as well as the head of Hawaii’s department of education, but Kane can’t figure out what connects them or prompted their cooperation on such a corrupt project, even as someone takes a shot at the developer in his front yard.
And while Kane is dealing with such a horrific conspiracy, his frequent-felon brother, Ikaika, passes out in the county jail and is taken to the hospital, where doctors find a huge, slow-growing brain tumor that has been affecting his behavior since childhood. Is there an explanation for the immense pain Ikaika has caused his family? Can he be paroled for behavior he couldn’t control?
Kane is clearly facing the most difficult case of his career – the injuries and deaths of so many children alongside a tightly interwoven group he can’t penetrate but knows they hold the secrets of the KonaWili disaster – while trying to balance the welfare of his family, especially his felonious brother and his quiet but firmly insistent mother, a respected native healer who adheres to the old ways. Robert McCaw has constructed a tightrope of a novel that stretches the nerves of its readers just as periously as a rope across Hualālai’s crater.