HELL-BENT: One Man’s Crusade to Crush the Hawaiian Mob. By Jason Ryan. Lyons Press. 295 pages. $26.95
Local author Jason Ryan has turned in another fast-paced, true-crime thriller about a father’s quest for vengeance in the death of his son, set in exotic Hawaii in the rollicking 1980s.
Ryan rose to fame locally with his first investigative book, “Jackpot: High Times, High Seas, and the Sting that Launched the War on Drugs,” which detailed the billion-dollar drug smuggling ring that ran through the marshes of the Lowcountry in 1970s and ’80s.
A federal task force, dubbed Operation Jackpot, eventually brought down the ring of so-called “Gentlemen Smugglers,” and Ryan’s book on the saga was a big hit.
Ryan has returned with an equally exciting story in “Hell-Bent.” The book focuses on Charles Marsland Jr., a World War II Navy veteran who commanded landing crafts in the Pacific War and later worked as a mid-level prosecutor in the Honolulu district attorney’s office.
Marsland’s world was rocked when his 19-year-old son and namesake, known simply as Chuckers, was brutally murdered with two shotgun blasts to the chest and four rounds from a handgun to the head.
Between daily pilgrimages to his son’s gravesite overlooking the cold Pacific, Marsland sets out to avenge his son’s murder. His dogged pursuit and brash tactics lead to his firing.
Rather than give up, Marsland runs and is ultimately elected Honolulu’s top prosecutor. Once in office, few are spared his wrath.
He publicly calls out judges whom he feels are too lenient on criminals and even state lawmakers and the governor who not only fail to pass legislation that would help crack down on crime but are often too close with those at the top of Hawaii’s criminal syndicates.
Marsland in many ways is his own worst enemy, lacking the diplomacy, grace and politicking skills needed to advance his own agenda. But it is impossible not to admire his single-minded focus in doing what he believes is right.
The book builds up to his eventual prosecution of the men suspected of murdering his son, an episode that reveals how real life story lines and those depicted on television crime shows don’t always converge.
Ryan’s book is a page-turner, a well-researched and fascinating look at crime in paradise. More than that, however, it is a powerful story of the dogged lengths one man will go to on behalf of his murdered son.
Reviewer James Scott is the author of “The War Below,” “The Attack on the Liberty,” and the forthcoming “Target Tokyo.” He lives in Mount Pleasant.