Penhallow-Scott uses Coco Palms as setting

David Penhallow-Scott always wanted to write a mystery. Consider it done.

The author who grew up on Kauai and now lives in Hilo recently published “Murder with Aloha at the Coco Palms Hotel.”

“It’s been a great challenge for me,” Scott said.

Why at Coco Palms?

Penhallow-Scott loved it. He was good friends with Grace Walters Buscher Guslander, the iconic owner of the Coco Palms in its glory days. She naturally is a prominent figure in this fictional story that uses names of some real people and places, but the situation came from his imagination.

The plot of an unsolved murder takes place shortly before a visit by Elvis Presley to film “Blue Hawaii.”

The 248-page book takes readers on a fast-paced, suspenseful ride that races toward a surprising ending, all the while with Coco Palms at the heart of the story. Penhallow-Scott referred to it as an “exciting, Agatha Christie kind of mystery.”

“I always pretty much know the end of my stories, so I know where I’m going,” he said.

Scott is an accomplished writer. He is the author of “After the Ball,” “The Betrayers,” and “The Story of Coco Palms Hotel.” He has written several plays, including “The Garden Side of the Moon,” “Listen to the Stars” and “Lights Out.”

He also wrote the story of a World War II family, the Whitneys, on Oahu. It has been chronicled in the plays “Bonsai Darling,” “Emma’s Last Dance” and “Matilda’s Waltz,” with the final of that storyline, “Going Home,” set to open next month when it is performed by the Kauai Community Players.

One of his goals with “Murder with Aloha” is to share the stories of Coco Palms and what made it such a place that it captured hearts of all who visited there. “I wanted to capture the flavor of Coco Palms when it was at its zenith,” he said. “What it was like being at the Coco Palms, what it was like being on Kauai.”

It was, Penhallow-Scott said, a time in Kauai’s history unlike any other, and he was fortunate to be part of it.

He was born on Oahu and moved to Kauai during World War II. His mom and grandmother were born on Kauai.

“My roots are here,” he said.

He worked at Coco Palms as a waiter for a few years. Guslander, he recalled, also trained him in hotel management, and Penhallow-Scott opened the Hanalei Plantation Hotel on June 5, 1961. It included 50 hillside cottages that used cable cars to shuttle guests.

“The lobby looked like it came out of ‘The King and I,’” he said.

After a year there, he left to pursue a career in theater and education. He was, for a time, director of the Kauai Museum.

Penhallow-Scott plans to keep writing — one work might be about a 1918 journal he has by an uncle and life on Oahu a century ago — and keep enjoying life in Hilo, where he is part of several writing groups and lives near his sister, Marion Penhallow.

“Murder with Aloha,” he said, has been one of his more challenging projects.

“I think I’m a better writer for it,” he said.

The book, $4 ebook and $15 for the paperback, is available at Talk Story Bookstore in Hanapepe, the Kauai Museum and at


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