An Analysis of the Hawaii Five-O Paperback Novels, American and British, and the American Whitman Five-O Stories for Youngsters
With the advent of the TV series came a line of paperback mystery novels published by Signet (New American Library). The first one, which bore the title Hawaii Five-O, has a first printing date of October, 1968. The author was Michael Avallone. This first book presents McGarrett as brash he was in the pilot movie, rather than in the series. This author has McGarrett smoking and drinking, though he never did smoke in the series and always maintained that he didn't use booze, though we do see him pour champagne and sip some whisky in a few episodes.
The plot involves the murder of a shipping magnate who turns out to have an involvement in covert operations. Then comes an attempted murder using two coral snakes. We're told the Honolulu Zoo is not missing any snakes, but the author avoids the significant fact that snakes of any sort are not found naturally in Hawaii, and that three specimens in the Honolulu Zoo -- all male -- are all that exist on the Islands. It is inconceivable that McGarrett would not have followed up on the importation of highly poisonous reptiles into the Islands to be used in a murder attempt.
The "McGuffin" is germanium, which is presented as being abundant in Hawaii. It isn't. Avallone postulates that the rest of the world is eager to get their hands on the element, which is used as a semiconductor. He makes a big deal out of transistors. But by 1968, transistors had been around for 20 years, having been invented at Bell Labs in 1948. In fact, the age of the integrated circuit was already in full swing, having begun in 1959 when the IC became commercially viable. This author was a good way behind the technology curve.
He also postulates that in 1968 knowledge about germanium and its use in semiconductors was very hush-hush. Research on germanium was conducted during World War II, and at that time it was classified. However, this research and its results were declassified in 1945, and the findings were made public at a meeting of the American Physical Society, January 24-26, 1946, at Columbia University. The use of germanium as a semiconductor was hardly hush-hush in 1968.
It's possibly true that many readers wouldn't be aware of these errors of fact, but the mere presence of them indicates both a carelessness and a disrespect for the readers on the part of the author.
The author also has characters, chiefly McGarrett, making leaps of logic on the one hand, and ignoring significant clues on the other. The writing itself suffers as well. Avallone employs the annoying stylistic habit of coming to the end of a section or chapter with a series of one-line paragraphs with too many fragmentary sentences. He seems to be reaching for a staccato effect to heighten the tension, but all he succeeds in doing is calling attention to an irritating style trick.
In sum, though it starts out interestingly enough in the first chapter, the book quickly loses believability.
The second paperback novel, Hawaii Five-O #2: Terror in the Sun (1969), also written by Michael Avallone, suffers from overkill. Six--count 'em--six hit men are in Honolulu to get McGarrett. The chief killer's five henchmen (an Italian, a Frenchman, A Briton, a German, and a Russian) are assigned the task of taking care of McGarrett while the boss hood goes after a British diplomat. The diplomat is carrying five vital slips of paper and is waiting for delivery of a mysterious package. The delivery boy? The Governor of the State of Hawaii.
The reader can't tell the players without a scorecard in this hit man's United Nations. While the Frenchman and the Russian barely manage to escape stereotype, the other three do not: the Italian is swarthy; the Briton pale and effete; and the German is a crew-cut, bullet-headed, Teutonically erect soldier. It is also difficult to keep the villains straight by their dialogue; they all seem to speak alike, all in colloquial American English, using slang phrases peculiar to American culture. There are no tags or speech characteristics which distinguish any one of these villains from another.
There is one clever passage which will cause fans to chuckle. McGarrett enters a television-studio replica of the governor's office located in "a converted Navy warehouse now serving as the CBS studio for shooting TV shows of Hawaii origin." This, of course, is the studio setting in which Hawaii Five-O began, "Mongoose Manor." We find out also that the governor is doing a bit for a documentary series called Hawaii Now. This was a Hawaii public television series which in fact did a documentary segment on the making of Hawaii Five-O, for which it won an award.
Fans will stop chuckling, however, when they get into the author's characterization of McGarrett. He again lights up cigarettes and indulges in alcohol in this book. These small items aside, the author has McGarrett as too grim and too much a performer of miracles. Thoroughout the story, the reader is left hanging. Time and again the Five-O team members are seemingly endangered with fates horrible and inevitable, the outcomes of which we do not see until some time later, when McGarrett or Danny or Kono or Chin show up without the event being believably set up, and it comes off as "Oh, by the way, he's just fine and here he is to save the day!"
This "Oh, by the way," idea permeates the book, filling it with false suspense. The mysterious package the governor is supposed to deliver to the diplomat is finally delivered, and it is only at the last that, oh, by the way, here's what the bloody thing actually is!
Again Avallone did not do thorough research. He writes of jet planes being "as commonplace in the skies above Oahu as the Nene, the picturesque goose which dominated so much of the island's acreage...the state bird of Hawaii." He is right about one thing: The nene is the state bird. But rather than being so numerous as described, the nene narrowly survived extinction and is still endangered. The bird never was native to Oahu, but lives on Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on the Big Island, and in Haleakala Crater on Maui. Certainly in 1969 the nene was not present in the numbers the author would have us believe.
While there is a fairly exciting fight scene between McGarrett and the French assassin, it can't make up for the rest of the tale. Oh, by the way, this seems to have been the last of this series of paperback novels.
The U.S. had no monopoly on novels based on Hawaii Five-O. There were at least two done in the United Kingdom. They were published by Star Books, W. H. Allen, in London. The show was quite popular in England, finding its way into Reg Smythe's "Andy Capp" comic strip and in the British comedy series To the Manor Born: as one of the characters sits down to the telly, we hear the Five-O theme. Fiona Graves, an administrative assistant from Southend-on-Sea, Essex, says: "I always used to watch the show when it was on regularly on a Saturday night; it was very popular. Mind you, the problem nowadays is that the Independent TV stations are competing with Satellite TV and are getting a lot of complaints about always showing old U.S. reruns (which I hasten to add, I like better than most of the new stuff), so they have stopped showing a lot of shows like. . .Hawaii Five-O. . .even though the audience for them was reasonably large."
The first of the British paperback novels was Serpents in Paradise, written by Herbert Harris and published in 1972. The book begins with a brief introduction describing the function of the Hawaii Five-O state police unit which speaks of the agency as if it were real, together with too guide-booky a description of Hawaii. It gets better as the story moves along, though there are too many British colloquialisms.
The plot revolves around drug pushers, using a device from the episodes "24-Karat Kill" and "Odd Man In," that is, smuggling contraband (in this case, drugs) into the islands inside fishes. There is also a murder to solve. The plot is serviceable, but the dialogue and the narrative both are stilted. The author has relied on stereotypes rather than fully-realized characters. As with the American paperback novels, the series characters are not portrayed as we see them on television. Rather, it seems the author read too many critics' reviews and depended on their descriptions of McGarrett as stolid and unsmiling.
One of the characterizations which may not be right on the money is amusing, nevertheless. Chin Ho questions a dazzling dame and finds himself, as the British would say, not unmoved. It's fun to know that although Chin may be married, he isn't beyond taking a look!
Other off-the-mark characterizations have the governor calling McGarrett by his last name exclusively, and have Che Fong addressing him as "Mr. McGarrett." Throughout the series, of course, both called him Steve.
There are no major factual errors like those of the American paperback tales. However, there are minor misspellings of street names (Kalakaua Avenue comes out Kalakama in the book) and of some of the Hawaiian words.
The most glaring problem, to American readers, is the overall elitist tone in the descriptions of the Hawaiian and oriental characters, and of the women.
The Angry Battalion by Herbert Harris was also published in 1972. It involves terrorism rather than espionage, and comes out something along the lines of the series episode "Savage Sunday" in content and theme. A mansion built by a sugar magnate for his discontented wife explodes and burns. The next day, the governor calls Steve in to show him a note apparently from a terrorist group calling themselves The Angry Battalion, mentioning a meeting of the group. He also links the death of a Honolulu Advertiser reporter to the activities of the terrorist group.
McGarrett and the governor come off as too stiff-upper-lip. They sound like convinced tories, more strident in their politics than they appeared in the television series. McGarrett shows little humanity until the very end of the tale. The compassion and caring given the character by his creator, Leonard Freeman, are lacking here. Dan Williams is not well-drawn in this book, either. Chin Ho Kelly and Ben Kokua come off best of all, especially when Ben gets into a fight with an Amazonian female terrorist in a well-wrought scene.
Men come off better in characterization than do women. Jenny, McGarrett's secretary, is given no personality of her own but merely exists to be dutiful. Unfortunately that was too often her fate in the series. The Amazon terrorist is terribly butch and too drearily villainous. The sugar magnate's wife is boozy and self-absorbed; this apparently gives her husband the excuse to stray. Maybe she's boozy because aging wives need love, too! And the tycoon's mistress is sweet and obedient, the perfect cliche victim.
The story moves briskly. Elements of the nicely complex plot are well set up, and there's a twist at the end reminiscent of the series episodes. Mr. Harris's research holds up; there aren't any of the glaring errors of fact prevalent in the American paperback novels.
The cover illustration bears mentioning for the fact that it depicts McGarrett holding his pistol in exactly the way Jack Lord did in the series: he's bracing his right wrist with his left hand, rather than using the standard law-enforcement grip of cradling the gun hand in the opposite hand, under the butt of the pistol.
Whitman Publishing Co. has long been noted as a publisher of books for children. They offered at least two books based on Hawaii Five-O. The first, Top Secret (1969) by Robert Sidney Bowen, emulates the two paperback novels in that it is a tale of espionage and international intrigue. The popularity of the "James Bond" movies at the time influenced the novels even more heavily than it did the television series itself.
In this story, a body found in the trunk of a car at the bottom of a cliff is identified as an eminent scientist involved in some top-secret weapons testing. That the scientist was tortured before being killed leads McGarrett and the Air Force to believe vital information may now be in communist hands. The trail leads through a hard-luck ex-con whose house is firebombed with him and the Five-O team in it, through an entrepreneur and underworld kingpin, to a respected businessman who is a Red Chinese agent.
The plot holds together fairly well, with a believable "McGuffin" and elements which all fit nicely. Action sequences are well done with none of the false suspense from which the second Signet paperback novel suffers. The dialogue, however, is stilted. The Chinese bad guys all speak in a highly stylized way, stereotyping them mercilessly. McGarrett and his men all talk the same, in a breezy wise-cracking manner, with no differentiation between them. Actions are likewise stilted and repetitive -- there's an awful lot of lip-licking, finger-tenting, and hand-waving done by all the characters. Descriptions sound like they came from a guidebook, but not as blatantly as in the first Signet paperback novel. There are no research howlers, as in the two American paperback novels. This story was written with some care for accuracy.
The second Whitman tie-in novel, The Octopus Caper (1971), by Leo R. Ellis, is written on a level that pre-teens can easily understand, but contains the adult subject matter of Mafia organized crime and its effects. At least there's no international intrigue or espionage here. The Mafia plot element, while stereotypical, is handled well in this book, and the subplot of the Mafia chief's misguided love for his daughter gives what could have been a one-dimensional character some depth. It also supplies the motive for the two murders investigated by Five-O.
Plotting in this tale is much tighter than in the Signet paperback Hawaii Five-O tie-ins. The story moves effectively and the plot hangs together with, again, none of the factual errors of the two American paperback novels. Nor do the descriptive passages in The Octopus Caper sound as if they were lifted wholesale from a badly-written guidebook.
Author Leo Ellis has also stayed truer to the characters as they appeared in the television series. Especially enjoyable is the characterization of Five-O detective Kono Kalakaua and his cousin. McGarrett is more in character in this book than in the paperbacks -- either British or American -- or in the other Whitman book. Though Dan Williams comes across as breezier than he generally was in the series, the characterization is well done. Chin Ho Kelly is kept in character as well, even to the smart cracks he makes.
The metaphor of the octopus, brought into the story by Dan Williams, is simple enough for a young person to understand, yet is well-drawn and fits into the story. The writing itself is on a fairly elementary level, but it flows easily and is not bogged down by annoying stylistic devices. It is simple, crisp, and clear, easily understood by young people, but not so simple that it can't provide an afternoon's light reading for an adult fan seeking simple escapism.
The climactic scene is tightly-written, using vivid, active verbs to supply tension to the scene. There's very little hokiness in the story. The author presents the story straightforwardly, avoiding any temptation to talk down to the target child audience. Though this book was written primarily for children, it stands up better than the paperback novels, which were targeted at adult Hawaii Five-O fans.
The one failing all these books have is one endemic to the times in which they were written: they overlook and do not employ the ethnic and cultural diversity of Hawaii, which added such grace to the best televised episodes.
[All images scanned in with my Hewlett-Packard HP5P scanner into Paint Shop Pro 5. Books used are from my own collection. All are now long out of print, but the American books can occasionally be found in U.S. used book stores.-- Karen Rhodes]
Return to Karen Rhodes Home Page
Back to Five-O Fandom