24 August 2013

Review: PAGO PAGO TANGO, John Enright

  • published by Thomas & Mercer 2012
  • ISBN 9781612185002
  • 255 pages
  • source: library book
Jungle Beat (Fantastic Fiction)
1. Pago Pago Tango (2012)
2. Fire Knife Dancing (2013)
3. To'Aga (2014)

Synopsis (Amazon

Detective Sergeant Apelu Soifua spent seven years in the San Francisco Police Department, where the job was just a job and solving crimes required cool detachment. But back home on American Samoa, life is personal—especially for a cop. Because on a small island where no one is a stranger and secrets are widely known but never discussed, solving crimes requires a certain…finesse.

Here, Apelu must walk the line between two cultures: Samoan versus American, native versus new. And that gulf never yawns wider than when a white family’s home in Pago Pago is burglarized. And what appears to be a simple, open-and-shut case turns out to anything but. As the evidence piles up, Apelu follows a tangled trail between cultures, dead bodies, hidden codes, and a string of lies on his hunt for the ugly truth buried at the heart of paradise.

My Take

I read this title as part of the 2013 Global Reading Challenge and through a suggestion made by Debra who follows my blog. I needed a book set on an island to complete my "7th continent" reading.

This book is set in American Samoa, on the island of Tutuila, at Pago Pago. PAGO PAGO TANGO is a police procedural, the first of a series centred on Detective Sergeant Apelu Soifua. The island is small, where every one knows everyone else. Samoan culture and values struggle to survive in the face of onslaughts by palangi (North American culture). Many of the traditional ways have already died, although Apelu can remember them being active when he was a boy, before his father took the family to San Francisco.

Now the Samoan economy is also struggling to survive and traditional goods have been replaced by a thriving drug trade. In reality the palangi are the controllers of the trade and the profits. Natural resources have been plundered and the fishing is almost gone. Serious crime like homicides are rare, but in PAGO PAGO TANGO a relatively unimportant burglary has connections with much more serious money making.

What is interesting about this novel is the way the author describes Samoan culture at every opportunity. The reader gets a look at Samoan traditions and past, contrasted with what it has become.

An interesting and instructive read, as well as being a tightly plotted novel.

My rating: 4.3

Other reviews to check
About the author

John Enright was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1945. After serving stints in semi-pro baseball and the Lackawanna steel mills, he earned his degree from City College while working full-time at Fortune, Time, and Newsweek magazines. He later completed a master’s degree in folklore at UC-Berkeley, before devoting the 1970s to the publishing industry in New York, San Francisco, and Hong Kong. In 1981, he left the United States to teach at the American Samoa Community College and spent the next twenty-six years living on the islands of the South Pacific. Over the past four decades, his essays, articles, short stories, and poems have appeared in more than seventy books, anthologies, journals, periodicals, and online magazines. His collection of poems from Samoa, 14 Degrees South, won the University of the South Pacific Press’s inaugural International Literature Competition. Today, he and his wife, ceramicist Connie Payne, live in Jamestown, Rhode Island.


Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - Oh, this sounds absolutely fascinating. I don't know enough about the Samoan culture, and this sounds as though there's a lot of that culture there. Thanks

Marina Sofia said...

I'm currently reading this and will be featuring it under Australasia/Oceania - if my geography is right. I like the way the author depicts the contrast between islanders and whites, the almost casual racism, and how the detective prefers to take off his shoes at the first opportunity.

Susan said...

This sound really interesting. I am fascinated by the Samoan aspect, which is something I know little about. Thankfully the book is available on Amazon up here in Canada, so I've added it to my shopping cart. Thanks for reviewing it, Kerrie.


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