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Five Decembers


Five Decembers

FIVE DECEMBERS is an extraordinary mystery that begins in late November 1941. The historical context of the date and location cannot be ignored.

Police detective Joe McGrady is a young officer who is called to work a fresh homicide in Honolulu. The assignment becomes more complicated when a second body is discovered, and McGrady, upon his return to the murder scene, engages in a shoot-out with an unknown individual strongly believed to be the killer. The victims are the nephew of a high-ranking naval officer and a young Japanese woman. The murders were performed in a brutal fashion, and the case has all the elements of front-page news coverage, which the police never like. McGrady’s superior officers advise him that he is on a tight leash during his investigation and should be very careful.

"2021 was a memorable reading year, and I can’t think of a better way to close it out than with this unique mystery, which will engage you from start to finish."

While the crime initially appears to have been solved by the shoot-out, another suspect emerges. That person has fled Hawaii for Hong Kong, and McGrady arrives there on December 6, 1941. The rest, as they say, is history. The next day, Hong Kong and parts of Asia, including Hawaii, are under attack, and he is a prisoner of the Japanese. Thus begins a journey of several years with McGrady never forgetting that he has an unsolved murder to keep himself occupied.

FIVE DECEMBERS is written by James Kestrel, a pen name for an author described as an attorney practicing throughout the Pacific and a former bar owner, criminal investigator and English teacher. While researching the book, I discovered that Kestrel is actually horror and suspense novelist Jonathan Moore. I only point this out to my fellow readers because, after finishing this one, I am certain you are going to want to explore more of the author’s works.

The publisher is Hard Case Crime, an imprint that publishes many novels that harken back to the noir style of the 1940s and ’50s. In terms of language, plot and characters, this book reads like the great detective stories of that bygone era when detectives were tough males, wearing suits and ties, and almost always smoking unfiltered cigarettes and drinking hard liquor. Even though the time frame covers several years, the transitions are smooth, and the challenging aspects of its various locations are easily handled by Kestrel.

As FIVE DECEMBERS progresses through the years of World War II and the postwar era, there are quite a few interesting plot twists and turns. 2021 was a memorable reading year, and I can’t think of a better way to close it out than with this unique mystery, which will engage you from start to finish.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on December 17, 2021

Five Decembers
by James Kestrel