A Death in the Islands

In September of 1931, Thalia Massie, a young naval lieutenant’s wife, claims to have been raped by five Hawaiian men in Honolulu. Following a hung jury in the rape trial, Thalia’s husband and mother, socialite Grace Fortescue, along with two sailors, kidnap one of the accused in an attempt to coerce a confession. When they are caught after killing him and trying to dump his body in the ocean, Mrs. Fortescue’s society friends raise enough money to hire 74-year-old Clarence Darrow out of retirement to defend the vigilante killers. The result is an epic courtroom battle between Darrow and the Territory of Hawaii’s top prosecutor, John C. Kelley, in a case that threatens to touch off a race war in Hawaii and results in one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in American history.

Film rights have been optioned by Twin Ink, Inc., the production company of Aaron and Jordan Kandell, writers on the Disney hit animated film "Moana."

Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Local filmmakers option book on Massie case

By Mindy Pennybacker, January 8, 2017

Hawaii screenwriters Aaron and Jordan Kandell, fresh off their success as part of the writing team for Disney’s “Moana,” have optioned the film rights to a book about the infamous Massie case, a saga of racially explosive crimes, lies and courtroom drama that shook Hawaii in 1931 and ’32.

The Massie story raises “important and still relevant issues,” said Aaron Kandell. “I think at that time (racism) was more overt, but those currents are still deeply felt.”

The 34-year-old twins’ production company, Twin Ink, was already producing a Massie project with a script by Chris Kekaniokalani Bright when they optioned Texas

attorney Mike Farris’ nonfiction book, “A Death in the Islands: The Unwritten Law and the Last Trial of Clarence Darrow” (Skyhorse Publishing, $24.99), for an undisclosed


Praise for A Death in the Islands

A Death in the Islands is a gripping story of injustice and legal misconduct, a compulsive page-turner that reads like a true-life film noir. An accomplished attorney himself, Mike Farris casts a sharp light onto issues of sex, race and class in ‘30s-era Hawaii that continue to resonate in today’s troubled political times. His unsparing portrait of an opportunistic Clarence Darrow is only one of several major surprises in a narrative of sustained suspense. The story of the Ala Moana boys is more than a cautionary tale; it’s an indictment of an entire society that leaves you brimming with outrage.” – Kirk Ellis, Emmy Award-winning writer/co-executive producer of HBO’s John Adams

“This spellbinding book reads like a novel but has been meticulously researched to reveal the truth about one of Hawaii’s and Clarence Darrow’s most controversial cases. Mike Farris opens the lid on this real-life legal thriller with a brilliant command of the facts and a captivating writing style.” – William Bernhardt, New York Times bestselling author of the Ben Kincaid legal thrillers

“The Hawaiian sun is the only thing that shines bright in this compelling narrative. I couldn’t put the book down.” – Laurence Leamer, New York Times bestselling author of The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle that Brought Down the Klan

“This compulsively readable tale reads like a legal thriller but is, in fact, a shocking look back to an era we must never forget. Even today, we hear echoes of this injustice. The names and faces may change, but the sad truth remains that we are not all judged equally under the law.” – Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author of the Rizzoli & Isles series

“With a writer's touch for mystery and suspense, and an attorney’s keen insight, Mike Farris documents a gripping true story of lies and deceit and injustice that I dare you to put down. A Death in the Islands will surprise you, grip you, and keep you up reading late into the night. Put this one on your ‘must’ list, clear a weekend, and start turning the pages.”– Robert Dugoni, New York Times bestselling author of The Jury Master and the Tracy Crosswhite thrillers

“An enthralling tale of rape, murder, and injustice in 1930s Hawaii that starts out as a police procedural and evolves into a courtroom drama starring one of the greatest lawyers who ever lived – and he’s not even the best one in the courtroom. Irresistible.” – James Donovan, bestselling author of A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn, the Last Great Battle of the American West

“Take an exotic setting, a hidden mystery, courtroom theatrics and an engrossing cast of characters, and you have all the elements for a terrific yarn. Mike Farris combines a lawyer’s knack for meticulous research with a novelist’s gift of dramatic storytelling. The result is a fascinating—and outrageous—tale that was lost until now. Farris brings it all to life wonderfully.” – Doug J. Swanson, author of Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker

“What a cast of characters: heavyweight trial attorneys, headstrong military leaders, grandstanding politicians, a scheming socialite, and five young men falsely accused of rape. And it’s all set in paradise: Hawaii in the 1930’s. It’s hard to find a story with such narrative drama and courtroom excitement, but Mike Farris has done it.” – Skip Hollandsworth, author of The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal and the Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer

“Mike Farris has written an absolutely riveting book about a 1931 Hawaiian case that is remarkably analogous in many ways to the far better-known Scottsboro Boys. It, too, featured dramatic false charges of gang rape that played on the racial divisions. Most surprising is that one of the villains was Clarence Darrow; equally surprising, at least for some readers, will be the courage not only of a local judge, but also of police officers who recognized that those charged with the crime were in fact being framed. Farris draws on extant trial transcripts and newspapers, but he adds to these a novelistic recreation of the unfolding of the events in the lives of their participants.” – Sanford Levinson, author of Our Undemocratic Constitution

“A riveting page-turner where a wife of a Navy officer falsely claims she was raped by several Hawaiians. It’s Scottsboro in Honolulu—both in 1931. After a hung jury the commanding admiral at Pearl Harbor proclaims ‘the trial in my opinion and many others was a stupid miscarriage of justice which could have been avoided if the Territorial Government had shown more inclination to sympathize with my insistence of the necessity of a conviction.’ Then the story gets even better.” – Lucas A. Powe, Jr., author of The Supreme Court and the American Elite, 1789–2008

“Even having practiced criminal law for 43 years, while being at the same time a voracious, critical, and addicted reader of fiction and non-fiction regarding the American system of criminal law and the characters that inhabit that system, I was literally overwhelmed by this amazing story. This book is better than the best crime fiction I have read and more informative than the best criminal justice non-fiction I have studied. Its historic characters and immensely important lessons are brought to life on the page as if one had fallen into a time warp and was actually there, working on the case, sensing the injustices, or working to see that justice was done. The real life characters, historic truths, and lessons learned in this book about our criminal justice system and its flaws are extraordinary and meaningful, but even they are overwhelmed by the sheer joy and suspense of this wonderful book. Bravo.” – Joe Cheshire, defense attorney in the Duke lacrosse case

“The best part about this very engaging book is its riveting portrait of Clarence Darrow. He is, of course, one of history's most famous lawyers, but I didn't feel that I really knew him until now.” – S. C. Gwynne, New York Times bestselling author of Empire of the Summer Moon and Rebel Yell