Hardboiled Collective Excerpt Week: Little Elvises (Junior Bender) by Timothy Hallinan

 Hardboiled Collective, Junior Bender, Timothy Hallinan  Comments Off on Hardboiled Collective Excerpt Week: Little Elvises (Junior Bender) by Timothy Hallinan
Feb 062013

As most of you know I am the founder of the Hardboiled Collective, a group of crime writers helping each other out getting noticed by readers. This week every member of our group spotlights another member on his / her blog by publishing an excerpt from a member’s latest work.
It is an honor for me to feature the following (second) chapter of Timothy Hallinan‘s wonderful novel Little Elvises.

Timothy Hallinan is the Edgar- and Macavity-nominated author of three series, featuring overeducated Los Angeles private eye Simeon Grist, Bangkok travel writer Poke Rafferty and San Fernando Valley burglar (and private eye for crooks) Junior Bender. His newest book, LITTLE ELVISES, begins when Junior Bender is forced by a corrupt cop to solve a murder for which it’s likely the cop’s uncle will be arrested. The uncle, Vinnie DiGaudio, made a fortune in the sixties discovering and promoting “little Elvises” – kids off the streets of Philadelphia with a vague resemblance to Elvis Presley.

This is the second chapter of LITTLE ELVISES. The book got a starred review from Booklist, which called it “hugely, splendidly entertaining,” and a rave from Associated Press (“compelling and heart-pounding”), and was just chosen Mystery Pick of the Month by BookPage. The series has been bought for film by Lionsgate.

An Original Void

The month’s motel was Marge ’n Ed’s North Pole at the north end of North Hollywood. The advantage of staying at the North Pole was that even the small number of people who knew I’d lived in motels since my divorce from Kathy would never figure I’d stoop that low. The disadvantage of staying at the North Pole was everything else.

Generally speaking, motels have little to recommend them, and the North Pole had less than most. But they made me a moving target, and I could more or less control the extent to which anyone knew where I was at any given time. I’d been divorced almost three years, and the North Pole was my 34th motel, and far and away the worst of the bunch.

I’d been put into Blitzen. In an explosion of creativity, Marge ’n Ed had decided not to number the rooms. Since Clement Moore only named so many reindeer in “The Night Before Christmas,” Marge ’n Ed had pressed Rudolph into service and then come up with some names on their own. Thus, in addition to the reindeer we all know and love, we had rooms named Dydie, Witzel, Tinkie, and Doris.

Doris wasn’t actually being passed off as a reindeer. She was Marge ’n Ed’s daughter. Marge, who grew confidential as the evenings wore on and the level in the vodka bottle dropped, told me one night that Doris had fled the North Pole with someone Marge referred to as Mr. Pinkie Ring, a pinkie ring being, in Marge’s cosmology, the surest sign of a cad. And sure enough, the cad had broken Doris’s heart, but would she come home?

Not Doris. Stubborn as her father, by whom I assumed Marge meant Ed, whom I always thought of as ’n Ed. Ed was no longer with us, having departed this vale of sorrows six years earlier. It  was probably either that or somehow orchestrate a global ban on vodka, and death undoubtedly looked easier.

The string of Christmas lights that outlined the perimeter of Blitzen’s front window blinked at me in no discernible sequence, and I’d been trying to discern one for days. They sprang to life whenever anyone turned on the ceiling light, which was the only light in the room. I’d tried to pull the cord from the outlet, but Marge ’n Ed had glued it in place.

“YouTube-dot-com,” Rina said on the phone. “Y-O-U-Tube, spelled like tube. Aren’t you there yet?”

Something unpleasant happens even to the most agreeable of adolescents when they talk to adults about technology. A certain kind of grit comes into their voices, as though they’re expecting to meet an impenetrable wall of stupidity and might have to sand their way through it. Rina, who still, so far as I knew, admired at least one or two aspects of my character, was no exception. She sounded like her teeth had been wired together.

“Yes,” I said, hearing myself echo her tone. “I’ve managed somehow to enter the wonderland of video detritus and I await only the magical search term that will let me sift the chaff.”

Dad. Do you want help, or not?”

“I do,” I said, “but not in a tone of voice that says I’d better talk really slowly or he’ll get his thumb stuck in his nostril again.

“Do I sound like that?”

“A little.”

“Sorry. Okay, the interview is called ‘Vincent DiGaudio Interview.’ Have you got that?”

“Slow down,” I said. “Did you just ask me whether I can follow the idea that the Vincent DiGaudio Interview is called ‘Vincent DiGaudio Interview’?”

“Oh.” She made a clucking noise I’ve never been able to duplicate. “Sorry again.”

“Maybe I’m being touchy,” I said. “Thanks. Anything else?”

“Not on video. I’ll email you the links to the other stuff, the written stuff. There’s not much of it. He doesn’t seem to have wanted much publicity.”

“Wonder why,” I said. I figured there was no point in telling her I was going to be getting involved with a mob guy. She might worry.

She said, “But the FBI files are kind of interesting.”

“Excuse me?”

“Somebody used the Freedom of Information Act,” said my thirteen-year-old daughter, “to file for release of a stack of FBI files on the outfit’s influence in the Philadelphia music scene. Since DiGaudio’s still alive and since he never got charged, his name is blacked out, but it’s easy to tell it’s him because a lot of the memos are about Giorgio. The files are on the FBI’s site, but I’ll send you the link so you don’t have to waste time poking around.”

“The FBI site?” I said. “Giorgio?”

“Wake up, Dad. Everything’s online.”

Was I, a career criminal, going to log onto the FBI site?   “Who’s Giorgio?”

“The most pathetic of DiGaudio’s little Elvises. Really pretty, I mean fruit-salad pretty, but he couldn’t do anything. Tone deaf. He stood on the stage like his feet were nailed to the floor. But really, really pretty.”

“I don’t remember him in the paper you wrote.” I was taking a chance here, because I hadn’t actually read all of it.

“I didn’t talk about him much. He was so awful that he kind of stood alone. He wasn’t an imitation anything, really. He was an original void.”

“But pretty.”

“Yum yum yum.”

“Thanks, sweetie. I’ll check it out.”

“You can look at Giorgio on YouTube, too,” she said. “Although you might want to turn the volume way, way down.”

“Let me guess,” I said. “It’s under ‘Giorgio.’”

“Try ‘Giorgio Lucky Star.’ That was the name of his first hit. ‘Lucky Star,’ I mean. Little irony there, huh? If there was ever a lucky star, it was Giorgio. If it hadn’t been for Elvis, he’d have been delivering mail. Not that it did him much good in the long run, poor kid. Anyway, search for ‘Giorgio Lucky Star.’ Otherwise you’re going to spend the whole evening looking at Giorgio Armani.”

“Is your mom around?”

A pause I’d have probably missed if I weren’t her father.

“Um, out with Bill.”

“Remember what I told you,” I said. “Whatever you do, don’t laugh at Bill’s nose.”

“There’s nothing wrong with Bill’s nose.”

“Just, whatever happens, next time you see Bill’s nose, don’t laugh at it.”

“Daddy,” she said. “You’re terrible.” She made a kiss noise and hung up.

It was okay that I was terrible. She only called me Daddy when she liked me.

I’ve had more opportunity than most people to do things I’d regret later, and I’ve taken advantage of a great many of those opportunities. But there was nothing I regretted more than not being able to live in the same house as my daughter.

I’d wanted to stay in Donder, but it was taken.

“Donder” is a convincing name for a reindeer. “Blitzen” sounds to me like the name of some Danish Nazi collaborator, someone who committed high treason in deep snow. But Donder was occupied, so I was stuck with either Blitzen or Dydie. I chose Blitzen because it was on the second floor, which I prefer, and it had a connecting door with Prancer, which was unoccupied, so I could rent them both but leave the light off in one of them, giving me a second room to duck into in an emergency, a configuration I insist on. This little escape hatch that has probably saved me from a couple of broken legs, broken legs being a standard method of getting someone’s attention in the world of low-IQ crime. And as much as I didn’t like the name “Blitzen,”there was no way I was going to stay in Prancer. It would affect the way I thought about myself.

Blitzen was a small, airless rectangle with dusty tinsel fringing the tops of the doors, cut-outs of snowflakes dangling from the ceiling, and fluffs of cotton glued to the top of the medicine cabinet. A pyramid of glass Christmas-tree ornaments had been glued together, and then the whole assemblage
had been glued to a red-and-green platter, which in turn had been glued to the top of the dresser. Marge ’n Ed went through a lot of glue. The carpet had been a snowy white fifteen or twenty years ago, but was now the precise color of guilt, a brownish gray like a dusty spiderweb, interrupted here and there by horrific blotches of darkness, as though aliens with pitch in their veins had bled out on it. The first
time I saw it, it struck me as a perfect picture of a guilty conscience at 3 a.m.: you’re floating along in a sort of pasteurized colorlessness, and wham, here comes a black spot that has you bolt upright and sweating in the dark.

I have a nodding acquaintance with guilty consciences.

When Andy Warhol predicted that everyone in the future would be famous for fifteen minutes, he was probably thinking about something like YouTube. What a concept: hundreds of thousands of deservedly anonymous people made shaky, blurry videotapes of their pets and their feet and each other lip-synching to horrible music, and somebody bought it for a trillion dollars. But then all this idea-free content developed a kind of mass that attracted a million or so clips that actually had some interest
value, especially to those of us who occasionally like to lift a corner of the social fabric and peer beneath it.

Vincent DiGaudio Interview popped onto my screen in the oddly saturated color, heavy toward the carrot end of the spectrum, that identifies TV film from the seventies. Since I was going to meet DiGaudio in about forty minutes, I took a good look at him. In 1975, he’d been a beefy, ethnic-looking guy with a couple of chins and a third on the way, and a plump little mouth that he kept pursing as though he had Tourette’s Syndrome and was fighting an outbreak of profanity. His eyes were the most interesting things in his face. They were long, with heavy, almost immobile lids that sloped down toward the outer corners at about a thirtydegree angle, the angle of a roof. His gaze bounced nervously
between the interviewer and the camera lens.

Vincent DiGaudio had a liar’s eyes.

As the clip began, the camera was on the interviewer, a famished woman with a tangerine-colored face, blond hair bobbed so brutally it looked like it had been cut with a broken bottle, and so much gold hanging around her neck she wouldn’t have floated in the Great Salt Lake. “. . . define your talent?” she was saying when the editor cut in.

“I don’t know if it was a talent,” DiGaudio said, and then smiled in a way that suggested that it was, indeed, a talent, and he was a deeply modest man. “I seen a vacuum, that’s all. I always think that’s the main thing, seeing in between the stuff that’s already there, like it’s a dotted line, and figuring out what
could fill in the blanks, you know?” He held his hands up, about two feet apart, presumably indicating a blank. “So you had Elvis and the other one, uh, Jerry Lee Lewis, and then you had Little Richard, and they were all like on one end, you know? Too raw, too downtown for nice kids. And then you had over on the other end, you had Pat Boone, and he was like Mr. Good Tooth, you know, like in a kids’ dental hygiene movie, there’s always this tooth that’s so white you gotta squint at it. So he was way over
there. And in the middle, I seen a lot of room for kids who were handsome like Elvis but not so, you know, so . . .”

“Talented?” the interviewer asked.

“That’s funny,” DiGaudio said solemnly. “Not so dangerous. Good-looking kids, but kids the girls could take home to meet Mom. Kids who look like they went to church.”

“Elvis went to church,” the interviewer said. 

DiGaudio’s smile this time made the interviewer sit back a couple of inches. “My kids went to a white church. Probably Catholic, since they were all Italian, but, you know, might have been some Episcopalians in there. And they didn’t sing about a man on a fuzzy tree or all that shorthand about getting—can I say getting laid?”

“You just did.”

“Yeah, well that. My kids sang about first kisses and lucky stars, and if they sang about a sweater it was a sweater with a high school letter on it, not a sweater stretched over a big pair of—of—inappropriate body parts.” He sat back and let his right knee jiggle up and down, body language that suggested he’d
rather be anywhere else in the world. “It’s all in the book,” he said. “My book. Remember my book?”

“Of course.” The interviewer held it up for the camera. “The Philly Miracle,” she said.

“And the rest of it?” Di Gaudio demanded.

“Sorry. The Philly Miracle: How Vincent DiGaudio Reinvented Rock and Roll.

“Bet your ass,” DiGaudio said. “Whoops.”

“So your—your discoveries—were sort of Elvis with mayo?”

“We’re not getting along much, are we? My kids weren’t animals. I mean lookit what Elvis was doing on the stage. All that stuff with his, you know, his—getting the little girls all crazy.”

The interviewer shook her head. “They screamed for your boys, too.”

He made her wait a second while he stared at her. “And? I mean, what’s your point? Girls been screaming and fainting at singers since forever. But you knew if a girl fainted around one of my kids he wouldn’t take advantage of it. He’d just keep singing, or maybe get first aid or something.”

She rapped her knuckles on the book’s cover. “There were a lot of them, weren’t there?”

DiGaudio’s face darkened. “Lot of what?”

“Your kids, your singers. Some people called it the production line.”

“Yeah, well, some people can bite me. People who talk like that, they don’t know, they don’t know kids. These were crushes, not love affairs. The girls weren’t going to marry my guys, they were going to buy magazines with their pictures on the front and write the guys’ names all over everything, and fifteen minutes later they were going to get a crush on the next one. So there had to be a next one. Like junior high, but with better looking boys. Girl that age, she’s a crush machine, or at least they were back then. These days, who knows? Not much innocence around now, but that’s what my kids were. They were innocence. They were, like, dreams. They were never gonna knock the girls up, or marry them and drink too much and kick them around, or turn out to be as gay as a lamb chop, or anything like guys do in real life. They were dreams, you know? They came out, they looked great, they sang for two and a half minutes, and then they went away.”

“And they did go away. Most of them vanished without a trace. Are you still in touch with any of them?”

It didn’t seem like a rough question, but DiGaudio’s eyes bounced all over the room. He filled his cheeks with air and blew it out in an exasperated puff. “That ain’t true. Some of them, they’re still working. Frankie does lounges in Vegas. Eddie and Fabio, they tour all over the place with a pickup band, call themselves Faces of the Fifties or something like that. They’re around, some of them.”

“And Bobby? Bobby Angel?”

“Nobody knows what happened to Bobby. Somebody must of told you that, even if you didn’t bother to read the book. Bobby disappeared.”

“Do you ever think about Giorgio?”

The fat little mouth pulled in until it was as round as a carnation. “Giorgio,” he finally said. He sounded like he wanted to spit. “Giorgio was different. He didn’t like it, you know? Even when he was a big star. Didn’t think he belonged up there.”

“A lot of people agreed with him.”

DiGaudio leaned forward. “What is this, the Cheap Shot Hour? Even somebody like you, after what happened to that poor kid, even someone like you ought to think a couple times before piling on. Who are you, anyway? Some local talent on a TV station in some two-gas-station market. I mean, look at this set, looks like a bunch of second graders colored it—”

“This is obviously a sore topic for—”

“You know, I came on this show to talk about a book, to tell a story about music and Philadelphia, about when your audience was young, about a different kind of time, and what do I get? Miss Snide of 1927, with your bleeping jack-o’-lantern makeup and that lawn-mower hair—”

“So, if I can get an answer, what are your thoughts about Giorgio?”

DiGaudio reached out and covered the camera lens with his hand. There were a couple of heavily bleeped remarks, and then the screen went to black.

“My, my,” I said. “Touchy guy.” I glanced at my watch.

DiGaudio lived in Studio City, way south of Ventura Boulevard, in the richest, whitest part of the Valley. I had another thirty-five minutes, and the trip would only take fifteen. I typed in Giorgio Lucky Star.

And found myself looking at fifties black-and-white, the fuzzy kinescope that’s all we have of so much early television, just a movie camera aimed at a TV screen, the crude archival footage that the cameraman’s union insisted on. Without that clause in their contract, almost all the live television of the fifties would be radiating out into space, the laugh tracks of the long dead, provoking slack-jawed amazement among aliens sixty light years away, but completely lost here on earth.

Even viewed through pixels the size of thumbtacks, Giorgio was a beautiful kid. And Rina was right: he couldn’tdo anything.He stood there as though he’d been told he’d be shot if he moved, and mouthed his way through two minutes of prerecorded early sixties crap-rock. Since the face was everything and he wasn’t doing anything with the rest of himself anyway, the cameras pretty much stayed in closeups, just fading from one shot to another. No matter where they put the camera, he looked good. He had the same classical beauty as Presley. Like Presley, if you’d covered his face in white greasepaint and taken a still closeup, you’d have had a classical statue, a cousin of Michelangelo’s David.

But unlike the sculpted David, staring into his future with the calm certainty of someone who knows that God is holding his team’s pom-poms on the sidelines, Giorgio had the look you see in a crooked politician who’s just been asked the one question he’d been promised he wouldn’t be asked, in the athlete who’s been told he has to take the drug test he knows he’s going  to fail.

Giorgio was terrified.
Dec 222012

Dani Amore is really putting out a lot of work, all featuring private eyes. So we just HAD to interview her… Not only that, she just became a member of the Hardboiled Collective.

Q: What makes your detectives different from other hardboiled detectives?
More often than not it’s a certain outlook on life. That perspective manifests itself in different ways with different characters. Sometimes it’s a sense of humor that frequently crosses the line, or a reliance on alcohol, or a heightened thirst for revenge.

Q: How did you come up with the characters Rockne, Garbage Collector and Cooper?
Well, all three characters are based quite closely on people I’ve met in real life.
John Rockne is based on an actual private investigator I worked closely with. Which is ironic, because he’s kind of the anti-PI.
The Garbage Collector is another guy I know. He works in an entirely different field, but trust me, he’s got the same kind of no-bullshit, get-the-job-done approach exemplified by The GC.
And Mary Cooper, well, Mary Cooper is not just me, but my whole family. We pride on ourselves on taking a joke too far. Most of the time, though, we have more of a dry sense of humor – very deadpan. Which allows us to repeatedly say inappropriate things and let people wonder if we’re kidding or not. It’s great fun.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
I think it’s opened up readers to a whole new set of authors, and that can only be a good thing.

Q: What’s next for you and your 3 main detectives?
The sequel to DEAD WOOD is up next. John Rockne is going to finally track down Benjamin’s killer, and make him pay.

Q: How do you promote your work?
A little bit of everything. Contests, giveaways, paid advertising, social media. I’m not really sure what works and what doesn’t, so I just sort of careen from one thing to the next. It reminds me of how I approach holiday parties.

Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?
I like to read cookbooks from the 1950s and 1960s. It’s amazing how people would jam meat and jelly into some kind of strange mold and serve it as dinner. It’s like a cross between comedy and horror.

Q: What’s your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
I enjoy the hell out of them. Lunacy is quite a bit of fun. My Dad used to hunt chipmunks with a bow-and-arrow.

Q: In the last century we’ve seen new waves of PI writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation?
A guy named Frank Bill.

Q: Why do you write in the PI genre?
For the same reason I swing by the bar instead of going straight home: I just can’t help it.

Dead Anyway (Arthur Cathcart) by Chris Knopf

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Sep 262012

This one has a pretty unique idea behind it… Market researcher Arthur Cathcart is presumed dead, killed along with his wife. In fact, he survived and goes under deep cover to find out who killed his wife.
Arthur isn’t your regular tough PI and his methods are sly and cunning. Almost a how-to for those wanting to stay under the radar. The story is told in a way that makes you forget everything around as you BECOME Arthur. I had a hard time ”switching off” his voice every time I had to put this novel down.
An original and fascinating read!

Background Check on Car Wash Blues (Mick Murphy) by Michael Haskins

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Sep 102012

Michael Haskins, proud Hardboiled Collective member has a new book coming out, Car WashBlues, and was kind enough to tell us about it…

 Tell us what to expect from Car Wash Blues
In Car Wash Blues Mick Murphy begins to see friends he’s always depended all turn to advisories as two different Tijuana, Mexico drug cartels come after him. He has been set up and turns for help/advice to a American lawyer working for the cartels and an ex-drug smuggler.

How long did it take you to write it?

A little less than a year.

Did it take a lot of research?
Yes and no. Yes because I followed the Los Angeles Times’ wonderful on-going series Crisis in Mexico for years, so I had the research at my finger tips. No, because I spent 28 summers living off-and-on in Tijuana before moving to Key West. This experience helped me in my drive to set examples of what the people of Mexico live with daily.

Where did you come up with the plots; what inspired you?

I wanted to visit friends in Tijuana in 2008 on my book tour. They told me no, they’d come to LA. I loved the city and people for a long time and wanted to show the public a small taste of how bad life is because of the cartels. I wish the LA Times articles were published elsewhere so other readers could know what’s going on. Also wanted to bring to the front of all the trouble that it is the American consumption that drives the cartels. The profits are mostly in dollars.

What scenes did you enjoy writing the most?
Paying the ransom for Tita.

Who is your favorite among the characters in the book?

Of course Mick Murphy, but I have a soft spot for Padre Thomas and a need for Norm’s experience. Both the characters I based my writing on died recently and they never knew each other.

 Is there anything else you’d like to say about Car Wash Blues?

Unfortunately, the book will not be available as an eBook for a year. I think this is my last traditionally published books, so collectors should grab it up. From now on it will be trade paperbacks and Kindle copies.

No Going Back (Joe Hunter) by Matt Hamilton

 Hardboiled Collective, Joe Hunter, Matt Hilton, Review  Comments Off on No Going Back (Joe Hunter) by Matt Hamilton
Sep 102012

Joe Hunter is off on a somewhat different direction. He is now officialy working for his old buddy Rink, a PI. He takes on the jobs that are a bit messier than a regular PI would take on.
After a stop in the UK he travels to the US desert to find a rich man’s missing daughter. He ends up confronting a family that makes the guys from The Hills Have Eyes look like pushovers.
I always like Matt’s books, but this one was even better than usual. I really liked the desert setting, the new direction of the series and the way the book was structured. Viewpoints from the victims, the bad guys and Joe were nicely mixed together for maximum thrilling effect.
If you’re reading Lee Child and haven’t given Matt Hilton a try… This is the one to start out with.

A Cup Full Of Midnight (Jared McKean) by Jaden Terrell

 Hardboiled Collective, Jaden Terrell, Jared McKean, Review  Comments Off on A Cup Full Of Midnight (Jared McKean) by Jaden Terrell
Aug 012012
There’s a reason I invited Jaden into the Hardboiled Collective of course… From her debut novel I knew she was going to be a force to be reckoned with in the PI genre. With this second novel she proves it again.
Jared McKean, ex-cop and Nashville PI investigates the murder of an evil goth, Razor, to prove his nephew didn’t do it. There’s also a few subplots, one including Jared’s housemate who takes a dying friend with AIDS in his home.

Jared’s investigations takes us to dark places and happenings in a community of wannabe-vampires. This is really hardboiled stuff but enriched with a female’s touch in the tender scenes with McKean’s nephew and friends.
In a particularly nasty fight McKean shows us how tough he is and how strong his sense of justice is. A guy this tough is bound to turn up in a third novel and I will be eagerly awaiting it.

Background Check on: Cliff Walk (Liam Mulligan) by Bruce DeSilva

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May 182012

We asked Hardboiled Collective member Bruce DeSilva all about his newest novel, Cliff Walk.

Tell us what the novel is about.

Cliff Walk is the second novel in my hardboiled series featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter at a dying Providence, R.I. newspaper. The tale begins two years ago when prostitution was legal in the state (true story.) Politicians are making a lot of speeches about the shame of it, but they aren’t doing anything about it. Mulligan suspects that’s because they are being paid off. As he investigates, a child’s severed arm is discovered in a pile of garbage at a local pig farm. Then the body of an internet pornographer turns up at the bottom of

the famous Cliff Walk in nearby Newport. At first the killings seem random, but as Mulligan keeps digging, strange connections begin to emerge. Promised free sex with hookers if he minds his own business–and a savage beating if he doesn’t–Mulligan enlists the help of Thanks-Dad, the newspaper publisher’s son, and Attila the Nun, the state’s colorful attorney general, in his quest for the truth. What he learns will lead him to question his long-held beliefs about sexual morality, shake his tenuous religious faith, and leave him wondering who his real friends are. Cliff Walk is at once a hardboiled mystery and a serious exploration of sex and religion in the age of pornography.

How long did it take you to write the novel?

I began writing the book shortly after my first Mulligan novel, Rogue Island, winner of both the Edgar and the Macavity Awards, was published; and I finished it in six months. The third Mulligan novel, Providence Rag, is also finished and will be published sometime next year.

Did it take a lot of research?

Yes and no. In a sense, the Mulligan novels took forty years to research because they draw on everything I learned about Rhode Island’s cops, street thugs, journalists, corrupt politics, and organized crime figures during my 40-year journalism career, about a third of it spent at The Providence Journal, the state’s largest paper. I was well prepared to write these books. But when I started Cliff Walk, I did not know much about the inner workings of the state’s sex trade. So I spent many dreary evenings hanging out at Cheaters, the Cadillac Lounge and several of the state’s other strip clubs where prostitution was openly practiced, discretely questioning bartenders, bouncers, and naked hookers who kept climbing into my lap. Since I’m a married man, that could have had serious consequences. Lucky for me, my wife found my research hilarious.

Where did you come up with the plot; what inspired you?

Unlike Rogue Island, which is entirely made up, Cliff Walk was inspired by real events in our smallest state, a quirky place with a legacy of corruption that goes all the way back to one of the first colonial governors dining with Captain Kidd. In 1978, COYTE, a national organization representing sex workers, sued the state in federal court, alleging that its antiquated prostitution law was so vague that it could be interpreted as prohibiting sex between married couples. The suit was dismissed in 1980 after the state legislature rewrote the law, redefining the crime and reducing it from a felony to a misdemeanor. As it turned out, however, a key section of the new law was left out, supposedly by accident, when the legislature voted on it. Amazingly, however, more than a decade passed before anyone seemed to notice. Finally, in 1993, a lawyer representing several women arrested for prostitution at a local “spa” did something remarkable. He actually read the statute. The only word used to define the crime, he discovered, was “streetwalking.” Therefore, he argued, sex for pay was legal in Rhode Island as long as the transaction occurred indoors. When the courts agreed, the state’s strip clubs turned into brothels, and a whole bunch of new strip clubs and “massage parlors” opened up. Soon, tour buses full of eager customers began arriving from all over New England. At the height of the state’s legal sex trade, 30 brothels were operating openly. Rhode Island didn’t get around to fixing the law until a couple of years ago.

Which scenes did you enjoy writing the most?

When I sat down to write the novel, the first thing I typed was this: “Attila the nun thunked her can of Bud on the cracked Formica tabletop, stuck a Marlboro in her mouth, sucked in a lungful, and said ‘Fuck this shit.'” That sentence, which ended up as the opening to chapter five, had the hardboiled feel I wanted and gave me the confidence to keep writing. But the short final chapter, which portrays a weary Mulligan’s inner turmoil about the soul-wrenching things he witnessed during his investigation, is my favorite part of the book.

Who is your favorite among the characters in the novel?

I’m tempted to say Mulligan because he’s a lot like me–except that he’s 25 years younger and eight inches taller. He’s an investigative reporter; I used to be. He’s got a smart mouth; I get a lot of complaints about the same thing. Like me, he’s got a shifting sense of justice that allows him to work with bad people to bring worse people down. But I have a special fondness for Attila the Nun, a former Little Sisters of the Poor nun who forsakes her religious calling for the rough-and-tumble arena of Rhode Island politics.

I noticed places in the novel where your own life or interests end up in some scenes, like the appearance of your wife Patricia, and a dog with the same name as yours. You also included an appearance by Andrew Vachss and often mention crime writers you personally like. Could you tell us a bit about why you enjoy including these little nuggets?

I want my characters to be real people, and that means giving them interests beyond the job of investigating crimes. Since Mulligan is so much like me, it makes sense to give him similar tastes. So he’s a fan of the blues (The Tommy Castro Band, Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers, Buddy Guy.) He reads crime novels (Vachss, Michal Connelly, Ace Atkins.) He drinks beer (Killians.) He smokes cigars. He loves dogs, although his landlord won’t allow him to have one. Unlike me, he’s no fan of poetry, but his girlfriend is. So when she tries to read poetry to him or takes him to a poetry reading, I toss in a few lines. I suppose I could have tried to write a bit of poetry myself, but I’m no poet. I could have chosen a passage from another poet and then spent weeks trying to get permission to use it, but why go through all that trouble when I’ve got my own live-in poet? So I included a bit of writing from my wife, Patricia Smith, who is one of America’s finest poets.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about the novel?

The early notices have been gratifying, with both Publishers Weekly and Booklist giving Cliff Walk starred reviews. Publishers Weekly said, “Look for this one to garner more award nominations.” Booklist called the plot “exquisite” and added that the novel is “terrific on every level.” I just hope people enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Cliff Walk (Liam Mulligan) by Bruce DeSilva

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May 092012

Liam Mulligan, Rhode Island’s hardboiled reporter is back in this great new novel by Hardboiled Collective member Bruce DeSilva.
A child’s severed arm shows up on a pig farm… An internet pornographer is killed… A politicial battle is fought over legalisation of prostitution…
These ingredients are enough to keep Mulligan very busy. Add to that some vigilante killings on pedophiles, a new love interest and a gangster boss interested in hiring Mulligan and you end up with a very exciting crime novel.
What makes this novel so great is not just the many interesting plotlines however, but the character of Mulligan and the sharp writing. Mulligan is such a great self-depreceating character and the writing such an effective continuation of Chandler and Parker’s hardboiled voices this should be textbook writing for anyone attempting to write a hardboiled crime story.
It worried me that the paper Mulligan works for is going through some bad times, endangering his job. Luckily, it seems there’s enough people interested in Mulligan’s investigation skills to keep him busy even if he ends up sacked. I wouldn’t want to miss this guy, his troubles with his ex-wife, his clumsiness, his interest in crime fiction and his attitude. Looking forward to the third in the series!

Racing The Devil (Jared McKean) by Jaden Terrell

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Mar 072012

Because this great novel by a Hardboiled Collective member is coming out with a new publisher here’s a repost of my review…

Is it because the person behind the writer’s name is a woman that protagonist Jared McKean is one of the most emotionally developed of new private eyes? With a gay friend, a son with Down’s syndrome and a gothic nephew Jared McKean has plenty of baggage to keep his personal life interesting.
The story starts off with a bang though when Jared picks up a woman in a bar and sleeps with her only to find out it was all a setup to turn him into a murders suspect. Jared shows he can take of himself, using Tae Kwando moves to keep fellow prisoners away from him when he’s temporarily incarcerated.
He also shows he’s a pretty dogged investigator when he sets out to prove his innocence. The successful merging of the personal side of Jared’s life and the murder mystery made this an absolute favorite for me.

There’s also an interview to be found here.

The Last Refuge (Sam Acquillo) by Chris Knopf

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Feb 142012

To celebrate the fact The Last Refuge by Hardboiled Collective member Chris Knopf is coming out on Kindle, here’s a repost of the review I did of the paperback edition…
Sam Acquillo used to be an engineer before he decided to quit the business and his wife left him. Now he lives in his dad’s old place in Southampton where he spends the time doing not much besides drinking vodka. When he discovers the dead body of his neighbor, an old lady he sets out to fulfill a role as her administrator but also investigates wether her death was really a natural one.

Chris writes Sam as a very ‘real’ man and he made me care for the character. That’s what he excels in, the original characters and the story of a man who seems to have lost all and chosen to. He also writes pretty witty dialogue although some conversations do seem to take a bit too long. That’s also the most important gripe I had with the book. It went on a bit slow for me. As a literary novel it works better almost than as a crime novel.

Good reading if you like something slower and different, skip it if you only read Lee Child, Robert Crais and James Patterson.