My current book is Hell Bent by Jason Ryan. It’s the story organized crime on Oahu in Hawaii. Author Ryan focuses his story on the 1975 murder of “Chuckers” Maryland, who was working as a doorman @ a Honolulu nightclub. The police’s failure to solve the murder led Chuckers’ father, Charles Marsland to becoming a crusading prosecutor on Oahu, hence the title Hell Bent.
So far, the book is terrific. At the start, I was worried, as Ryan bogged down the story with lengthy, clunky digressions on Captain Cook, the the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and other tangential topics. You have to give the book 25-30 pages before the momentum builds. After that, it’s terrific.
Friday and Saturday nights I read from the start to page 188.
Charles & Chuckers (1955-1975)
Hell Bent’s protagonist is Charles, who made it his life’s work to rid Hawaii of organized crime. Interestingly, before Chuckers’ murder, Charles was not particularly interested in the issue. He didn’t even object to Chuckers rubbing shoulders with criminals when Chuckers worked in the nightclub.
If I have a frustration with Hell Bent so far, it’s that I don’t know a lot about the murder victim. Ryan published the book in 2014 and it’s possible that the decades that have passed since the murder have buried some of the truth about him. The reader learns that Chuckers was a 1973 graduate of the exclusive Punahou School (alma mater of Barack Obama, among other notables) and that he turned down a chance to play volleyball @ Pepperdine University, instead choosing to hang out in Honolulu.
The frustration kicks in when Ryan describes Chuckers’ interaction with the underworld. Clearly, Chuckers knew people in organized crime, and even considered them his friends. People differ as to whether Chuckers was a drug user, drug dealer, or just a guy who liked to party.
Hell Bent has about sixty pages to go before I finish, so Ryan might solve these mysteries by book’s end.
The main attraction of Hell Bent is what you will learn about Hawaii’s underworld. You learn the organized crime was pervasive in the 1970s and that it was difficult to tell the difference in the gangsters, cops, and politicians. Hawaii seems something like a small town where business gets done based on personal connections.
One of the main baddies is a hit man named Ronald Ching, whose reasonable demeanor masked his cold-blooded murders. Ching actually enjoyed talking to the police and once gave his rules for hit men (pp. 100-1) –
- clean your hands after the hit to remove gunshot residue
- be calm and keep the victim calm
- “remember to have fun.” The best people in all fields enjoy their work.
- “Finally, the killer’s job is not finished until he takes care of the victim’s body.” You can’t do these things halfway.
Another character is Larry Mehau, a former Honolulu cop who become a politically-connected cattle rancher. As a young man, Mehau was renowned for his physical strength and bravery. He once punched out the windshield of a car to remove a suspect who refused to surrender. In later life, he was alleged to be the top gangster in Hawaii, though I haven’t read far enough to see if that was the case.
My All-Important Rating
Thus far, Hell Bent is terrific and I can’t wait to finish it. I’d give the book 9/10.