Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt
A marauding monkey, a mysterious
murder, middle-aged hula maidens, and mugs full of Mai Tai’s. Just another day
in Tiki Goddess Paradise . . .
Crime-solving sleuth Em Johnson and her Uncle Louie, owner
of the famous Tiki Goddess Bar on Kauai, head for the Cocktail Shake Off
Competition in Honolulu. What is supposed to be a fun trip to a mixology
contest turns weird when Louie’s legendary "Booze Bible” is stolen, and Em’s
ex-husband winds up dead—with Em the number-one suspect. Sexy
Kauai detective and part-time fire dancer Roland Sharpe rushes to Em’s side
along with the unpredictable Hula Maidens, whose detective skills are even more
haphazard than their dance routine at the island tiki bars. Toss in an escaped
monkey and a killer who wants to make this the last call for someone’s
honky-tonk, tiki-tossing night out, and it’s going to be another wild escapade
for Em and her Hula Maidens.
A seven-time Romance
Writers of America finalist for the RITA Award, Jill Marie Landis also now
writes The Tiki Goddess Mysteries (set on the island of Kauai, Hawaii,
where she lives with her husband, actor Steve Landis.) Her books are not only
known for their intense emotion, but for characters you’ll remember long after
you turn the last page. Visit her world of tiki totems, hula maidens and
tropical fun at thetikigoddess.com.
"The Maidens stand out in TOO HOT FOUR HULA with their quick thinking at every challenge that comes their way. Their antics at the Aloha Stadium Flea Market is pure pleasure. The icing on top is Em's reward for watching out for Uncle Louis and the Hula Maidens…”
"Recommended read for fans of cozy mysteries, laugh-out-loud adventure, and Hawaiian culture. TOO HOT FOUR HULA is outrageously funny, just as Jill Marie Landis intended.”
Hilton Hawaiian Village
Waikiki, Island of Oahu,
I’D RATHER DRINK soy sauce.
Em Johnson, manager of the Tiki Goddess
Bar on Kauai’s North Shore considered herself a people person, but she’d rather
be talking to anybody other than her ex, Phillip.
"Thursday at eleven thirty is fine,” she
said into her cell. "I’ll see you then.”
She slipped her cell in the pocket of
her capris and turned to admire the view of Diamond Head and the skyscrapers of
Waikiki spread out along the crescent of white sand. Breakers rolled in slow
and easy, the perfect size for a multitude of fledgling surfers and their beach
From the twentieth story of the Ali’i
Tower at Hilton Hawaiian Village, the surfers on their boards looked like
matchsticks bobbing on the water. The ocean was crystal clear and aquamarine
blue, the coral reefs shadowy stains beneath shimmering blue-green glassy
water. If you knew what to look for, it was easy to spot the occasional sea
turtle, even from this height.
She turned away from the luscious view
to continue unpacking. She’d accompanied her uncle Louie Marshall, owner of the
Tiki Goddess Bar on Kauai to the Western Regional Division of the National
Cocktail Shake Off competition.
The mixologist who concocted the winning
cocktail would go on to compete in the nationals in St. Louis. Anyone who’d
ever visited Louie’s famous Tiki Goddess watering hole figured he had the
contest in the bag. Not only had he been concocting outstanding cocktails for
at least half a century, but he’d written a legend about his inspiration for
each and every one.
She’d just tucked
her cosmetic bag into the top dresser drawer when the connecting door to the
sitting room in the suite she shared with her uncle banged open. Louie Marshall
came rushing in.
"It’s gone!” he shouted.
Louie’s thick, silver-white hair was
always perfectly combed, but not now. It stood out as if he’d been pulling on
it. His face was florid. Her uncle wasn’t given to high drama, so Em was
"What’s gone?” Em turned, took one look
at his florid face and said, "Maybe you’d better sit down.”
Until now, her uncle had been riding the
crest of a wave of fame ever since the reality show Trouble in Paradisespotlighted his bar and the Hula Maidens, a group of enthusiastic, if not
talented, mostly senior aged dancers. Now he looked like he was going to stroke
"My Booze Bible! I just finished
unpacking my stuff, my lucky cocktail shaker and my promotional swizzle sticks.
I picked up my satchel and thought it felt kinda empty. Because it is empty! My
notebook is gone.”
Em reached for her cell. "Stay calm,
okay? I’ll call Sophie and tell her to FedEx your copy over. It’ll be here
tomorrow.” As she started to hit the number for the Goddess, he whispered
"What did you say?”
"There is no copy.”
"What?” Em realized he’d never
definitively answered her when she’d asked about making a copy of his recipe
notebook before they left Kauai.
Her uncle sank into a chair, rested his
elbows on the nearby desk, and cradled his head in his hands.
"I never had a copy made.” He gazed up
at her, looking sheepish. "I was afraid to take it to the business center. I
thought someone might steal my recipes now that we’re all so famous.”
"And now they have. The whole notebook.”
It was all handwritten. There was no file on a computer, no back up.
"Who would do such a thing?” he moaned.
"Your competition for one.”
"You think so? I haven’t even gone down
to the registration area yet. How would they even know I’m here?”
"Well, there was that minor
ruckus in the lobby when we checked in. Who doesn’t know we’re here?”
Tiki Goddess Bar, Island of Kauai, Hawaii
"TOO HOT FOR hula? Are you kidding me?
It’s never too hot for hula, Em. Never.”
"Sorry, Kiki.” Em added a shrug to her
apology. She should have known she’d hit a nerve when she casually asked Kiki
Godwin, the overenthusiastic, self-appointed leader of a troupe of senior hula
dancers, if it was too hot for the old gals to dance tonight.
"I don’t want any of you passing out on
stage,” Em added.
Em knew Kiki would never call off a Hula
Maiden performance even if Kauai was in the middle of a Category Five hurricane
and especially not tonight when they were giving Uncle Louie a big send off to
the Western Regional Shake Off Competition.
Em lingered with Kiki in the open
doorway to the ladies’ room the Maidens used as a dressing room. Kiki was
encased in red faux-velvet from the neck of her ruffled muumuu to her bare
toes. She pulled a wet paper towel out of her low-cut bodice and blotted a bead
of perspiration headed down her temple. Her neck was wreathed in three thick
strands of colorful plumeria lei, and clusters of plumeria and various
varieties of ferns covered the entire left side of her head.
"That heavy dress must be murder.” Em
regretted uttering the word murder aloud. The bar had become as famous for its
connection to homicides as it was for the outstanding food and beverages they
"Okay, I’ll admit, it is hotter than
Hades under this dress.” Kiki fanned herself with the crumpled towel. "But the
show must go on. Besides, this isn’t tonight’s performance costume. I wouldn’t
dare parade around in that before we take the stage.”
"Of course not.”
Em followed Kiki’s gaze and checked out
the bar. Every table was full to overflowing. One man seated near the stage had
been forced to balance his dinner plate on his knees, but he was still chatting
and smiling away. Every carved tiki barstool was occupied. A standing room only
crowd filled tables and milled around on the outdoor lanai.
"Looks like the entire North Shore is in
the house,” Kiki noted with smile.
"Along with any tourists who talked
their way into a reservation,” Em added.
"Nothing like a party to bring all kinds
of folks together. What a tribute to Louie. Everyone expects him to win, you
"I hope so,” Em said. Especially since
she was going to go with him and would be there to see it.
Kiki reached up and gingerly patted her
floral hair adornments.
"I think I’d better go put a couple more
bobby pins in my flowers. See you after the show.” She hurried back into the
ladies’ room where the other dancers were busy with their own last minute
Em would have said break a leg, but
where the Hula Maidens were concerned, anything could happen and usually did.
Thankfully things had been pretty calm
over the last few weeks. The bar was in the black financially for the first
time in years, and business showed no signs of slowing down.
Em left the small alcove near the
ladies’ room, and deciding she’d never make it through the throng to the table
where Louie was presently holding court, she slipped behind the long koa wood
bar where bartender Sophie Chin was a symphony in motion.
The young woman automatically grabbed
glasses, lined them up on a waiting tray and filled them with ice. Not once
since she started working at the Goddess had the twenty-three-year-old lost her
cool. Even the overflow crowd lined up three deep around the bar didn’t fluster
Sophie. She had come in early that morning to help set up, and she was still
"How are you doing?” Em asked her.
She looked up at Em. Her right brow was
studded with silver rings.
"I’m hanging in. I don’t think one more
person can squeeze into this place. I hope the fire marshal doesn’t stop by.”
Em laughed. "He’s already here with his
entire ohana. They got here two hours ago to score a table together. He
doesn’t look concerned.”
"He and Louie must go way back, I hear.”
"Who doesn’t go way
back with my uncle? He never met a stranger.”
Seated up front near the stage, the
still handsome seventy-two- year-old Louie laughed along with a couple seated
at his table. The middle-aged snowbirds from New York called Kauai home when
their home state was buried in snow.
"How is the drink special going over?”
she asked Sophie.
The two-for-one they were featuring was
Louie’s famous "Great Balls of Fire,” the cocktail created in honor of a
neighbor whose body ended up in the pit where they roasted luau pigs behind the
Sophie shrugged. "What’s not to like
about two kinds of rum and Triple Sec mixed together with ginger syrup infused
Em watched her assemble an order for ten
more Great Balls. "You’re not using paper umbrellas?”
"We ran out twenty minutes ago,” Sophie
"Flora may have some in stock, but if we
get them from her shop we’ll have to pay retail. She doesn’t give kama’ainadiscounts.” Flora Carillo, one of the Hula Maidens, owned a trinket shop in the
little town of Hanalei a few miles down the road.
"True dat.” Sophie picked up an open
bottle of Tabasco and shook it over the glasses lined up on the tray. After she
set the bottle down she took a second to glance over at Em.
"Mahalo again for trusting me to run
this place while you and Louie are off island.”
"You’ve thanked me enough.” Em smiled.
Sophie shrugged. "I never thought I’d be
assistant manager of anything, let alone a place as popular as the Goddess. I
can sure use the raise.”
"There’s no one else we trust more,
believe me. The downside is that you’ll have to stay at the house while we’re
gone and bird-sit David Letterman.”
"Funny”—Sophie shook her head—"I don’t
see a downside to housesitting on the beach, listening to the sound of the
waves hitting the reef out front, lying in the sand looking up at the stars after
work, feeling the trades drifting in off the water. All I have to put up with
is one very spoiled macaw.”
"Spoiled? Dave’s worse than spoiled.
Just remember not to put your fingers anywhere near the cage.”
"Louie left me some tongs for putting
food into the feeder.”
"Did he leave a list of Dave’s favorite
Once the reality show centered around
the Goddess, Trouble in Paradise, hit the air, "David Letterman,”
Louie’s taste-testing macaw, became as famous as the rest of the Goddess ohana.
Louie depended on David Letterman to help him tweak his recipes until
perfected. The sight of the parrot passed out on the floor of his cage assured
Louie that another legendary cocktail had been born. The parrot was so popular
Flora couldn’t keep plush Letterman toys in stock in her gift shop.
Sophie signaled to a tall, thin man with
a gray ponytail. Buzzy, the waiter with no last name, had to squeeze his way
thought the crowd to get to the bar and pick up the tray of drinks. When he
finally made it to the bar, Buzzy fumbled his notepad and finally tore off
three more pages of orders for Sophie to fill. He smiled at Em then
concentrated on lifting the heavy tray to his shoulder.
She’d hired the aging hippie to
officially wait tables until their return when she promoted Sophie last week.
Buzzy was always around, though not always sober, but he was trustworthy and
always voluntarily pitched in bussing tables whenever they were slammed. Em was
confident Buzzy would stay on the wagon until the end of his shifts. If not,
Sophie would fire him.
"If you can juggle this place while
we’re gone, I’m sure you can handle Letterman.” Em watched Buzzy scan the room
with a befuddled expression. "I hope he can get those to the right table,” Em
said. "I’m not so sure he’s cut out for official employment.”
"Not to worry. Tiko will be full time
until you get back.”
The diminutive local gal from Wailua was
scooting through the crowd with a megawatt smile that never dimmed. Tiko
usually filled in part-time but with Em leaving, there was no way Sophie and
Buzzy could handle busy nights without another waitress on the floor.
"How are you doing?” Sophie glanced at
the next order and grabbed some rocks glasses.
"I’m baking in here.” Em picked up a
napkin and dabbed perspiration from her brow and her throat.
Sophie reached over and pulled a scrap
of paper napkin off Em’s neck. "You know you’re having fun when you’ve got a
napkin stuck to your neck. Louie said this is your first trip off island since
you moved over from the mainland. You excited?”
"I was until I got a phone call from my
ex. Phillip read about the Regional Shake Off in the LA Times. Louie was
featured prominently, of course. It turns out Phillip’s going to be in Waikiki
when we’re there and wants to see me. He has something to tell me.”
Ever since the reality show aired they’d
all had more time in the spotlight than Em wanted or needed, but unlike her,
the Maidens thrived on celebrity and so did Louie in a more casual way.
"So are you going to meet up with him?”
"My gut reaction was to say no, but
things ended so badly between us that it would probably be a good idea to have
some closure. Hopefully things are looking up for him. He was broke when we
divorced. We both were. So I agreed to meet him for lunch, put the past to
"I’ll take it, but I hope I won’t need
"Maybe if you settle the past, you’ll be
able to heat things up with your detective.” Sophie winked.
"He’s not my detective,” Em said.
"So you say. Seems like it to me.”
Em couldn’t deny sparks flew whenever
she was around Roland Sharpe, the tall, dark, and handsome hapa-Hawaiian
detective who moonlighted as a fire knife dancer at luau shows. But it was too
soon after a messy divorce to ride that wave again.
"Where is he? I thought he’d be here
tonight,” Sophie said.
"He ended up on a case.”
"Wonder if it had anything to do with
all the cop cars that raced by headed north a few minutes ago?”
"Probably. He called about forty minutes
before. That would have given him time to drive out here.”
"Too bad he won’t be here.” Sophie
nodded toward the ladies’ room door. "Looks like the old girls are good to go.
Kiki said she has a special number planned.”
"When doesn’t she plan something
"Hopefully they won’t set the place on
"I told her all dances that involve
flaming coconuts or anything to do with fire are kapu. Don’t let them
try anything dangerous while we’re gone.”
The last time Kiki and the Maidens
performed a "special” number they’d nearly burned the place down, though the incident
inspired the flaming cocktail that Louie entered into the regionals.
"How much damage can they do in a week?”
"Don’t even go there.” Em saw Louie
waving her over to the table and waved back.
"I’ve got this,” Sophie said. "Go join Louie.
The show’s about to start.”
"Go. Your dinner is probably cold by
"No worries. Kimo’s macadamia
nut-crusted seared ahi is perfect hot or cold.”
Em left the bar and threaded her way
across the room to a table right in front of the stage. Her uncle was holding
court wearing a pile of lei from well-wishers. They were so thick around his
neck they nearly reached his chin.
Completely oblivious of the humidity, he
looked as dashing and debonair as ever in one of the colorful silk aloha shirts
from his vast collection of originals made in the forties. Loose white linen
pants completed his outfit. His thick white hair and golden tan accentuated his
deep blue eyes. Six foot two and in great shape, Louie could command a room
with his megawatt smile.
"Here she is.” He rose and pulled out
Em’s chair with a flourish and remained standing until she was seated. "Em, you
know everyone, don’t you?”
She smiled at the people gathered the
table and nodded.
"Of course. Thank you all for coming.”
"Are you kidding me?” Jack Robbins, the
part-timer from New York, had to yell to be heard over the din. The crowd
nearly drowned out the Tiki Tones, the three-pieced combo playing old retro
Hawaiian tunes on stage. "We’re delighted to be here!” Jack pounded Louie on
the back with one hand and fanned himself with a dessert menu with the other.
"Louie and Irene were the first people we ever met when we bought our condo
here thirty years ago. Never saw two people as full of aloha, that’s for sure.”
"They were quite a team,” Em agreed.
A life-sized portrait of Louie’s
deceased wife, Irene Kakaulanipuakaulani Hickam Marshall graced the wall above
the stage. Irene appeared to be smiling her regal Hawaiian smile down on the
revelers. Each evening Louie wrapped up the nightly entertainment with a song
he had written especially for Irene, his Tiki Goddess. All the old timers, the kama’aina,
and the newcomers, malihini, joined in to help Louie salute the one true
love of his life.
Em took a bite of her ahi. It was
so delicious she stifled a moan of delight. Kimo, their chef, was Kiki’s
husband. He had outdone himself tonight. The thick fillet of ahi was
seared to perfection. His aioli sauce to die for, and the ahi was
nestled on a creamy bed of whipped purple sweet potatoes.
"Aren’t you having a
Great Ball of Fire?” Annette Robbins, Jack’s wife, was a blonde. She was seated
across from Em. She held up her glass for a toast.
"I’m fine with water.” Em figured it
best to stay clearheaded while the Hula Maidens were on stage. She picked up
her water glass. "Plenty of time for a drink later. Cheers, though.”
Just then Brandon, one of the Tiki
Tones, executed a drumroll, and the leader of the band Danny Cook slipped into
"A-looo-ha!” he shouted.
"A-looo-ha!” The crowd called back.
Cheering and whistling commenced. Danny waited until the audience died down
then said, "You all know why we’re here.”
"Eo!” someone yelled in Hawaiian.
"Well, just in case
you maybe stumbled in here off the cruise ship and have no idea whazzup, we’re
here to give Uncle Louie Marshall, owner of the Tiki Goddess, a big send off.
As most of you know, tomorrow he’s going to Oahu to do us all proud at the
Western Regionals of the National Cocktail Shake Off competition.”
Brandon hit a drumroll again. The crowd
roared. Beaming from ear to ear, Louie got to his feet and waved to the
assemblage. He stepped on stage, his eyes suspiciously bright when he took the
mic. He let his gaze roam the room before he spoke.
Em knew Louie loved nothing more than
packing the place full of people from all walks of life to share a few hours of
fun. He truly was the ambassador of aloha and good times.
"Thank you all for being here tonight to
celebrate with us. I’m so thankful for all of your support and aloha. I’m
really looking forward to heading to the contest even though I’m never anxious
to leave Kauai. As you all know, Kauai no ka ‘oi. Kauai is da best!”
He waited for the thunderous applause
and wolf whistles to die down.
"I’m excited that my niece, Em, is
accompanying me to Waikiki. She’s been such a big help that she deserves a
little holoholo too.” He paused and chuckled. "For those of you who
don’t know, holoholo means to take a pleasurable trip. Hopefully, it’ll
be really pleasurable, and I’ll be bringing home a trophy to share with all of
Louie opened his arms to include the
whole room and made a gracious bow before he turned the mic back over to Danny.
Danny glanced toward the small alcove
between the ladies’ room and the bar where Kiki and the others waited just out
"The Hula Maidens are anxious to perform
for you tonight, so without further ado, here’s their leader, Kiki Godwin!”
A hush fell over the room. Fans of the
reality television series Trouble in Paradise knew Kiki was the
outspoken leader of the troupe of aging dancers. The minute she appeared the
crowd went wild. Cameras and cell phones came out, and people jockeyed to get a
better shot of her in her full performance regalia.
Her faux-leopard, off-the-shoulder full
length sarong was so tight it forced her to take mincing steps. When she
reached the stage, Danny offered his hand. She smiled at the crowd, shrugged,
winked, and hiked up her skirt in order to manage the steps.
Her hair was swept into a tight bun on
the crown of her head and held in place with a pair of long ebony chopsticks.
Small golden tikis dangled from the ends. Kohl eyeliner swept almost all the
way to her temple to give her an exotic Asian look. Her false eyelashes were so
thick they looked like fans flapping up and down when she blinked. Her lips
were bright crimson outlined in deep magenta.
She waited in silence, drinking in the
applause while the crowd cheered and continued to snap photos. Kiki turned left
and right, striking poses that would have been sexy if she were thirty years
younger. Now they were just odd. With her heavy lashes flapping and golden
tikis bobbing, she was a sight to behold, and she milked every minute.
Finally Danny waved his arms and
motioned for everyone to sit. As people settled back into their chairs, Kiki
blew into the mic to test it.
In a low, seductive voice she began,
"You’ve all seen the movie South Pacific, haven’t you?”
There was scattered applause, and some
folks even answered back.
"Well, if you haven’t, you should. It
was filmed right here on Kauai in 1957, back when folks on the mainland were
working hard to buy their first homes and nice cars in the suburbs. But every
once in a while some of those hardworking folks dared to dream of traveling
somewhere that was still primitive, somewhere forbidden, somewhere that spoke
to the savage in all of them.
"So they gathered around barbecues in
their backyards, mixed up cocktails with exotic names like Mai Tais and
Singapore Slings, and after couple of sips they were dreaming of hot tropic
nights, trade winds, and palm trees. They dreamed of tearing off their neckties
and aprons and sailing away to distant shores where they could dance to the
beat of native drums and either chase pagan goddesses or become one.”
She paused and took a long, slow breath
and let the crowd imagine. Then in just above a whisper she said, "Tonight we
will present what we call our Dance of the Pagan Goddesses just for you. This
dance is dedicated to Uncle Louie, and we sincerely hope it brings him luck at
the Shake Off. So now, without further ado, the Hula Maidens are proud to
present our rendition of ‘Bali Hai,’ from the movie South Pacific.”