Providence Rag (Liam Mulligan) by Bruce DeSilva

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Apr 042014

I loved the first two Liam Mulligan novels so was eager to read this one, sure I would enjoy it as much as I did those two. I was wrong. I enjoyed it even more.
Where the first two were relatively enjoyable but standard PI books where the PI role was taken by a reporter this one is a very different kind of novel. This time the POV is not first person anymore and the scale of the story much bigger.
We follow reporter Liam Mulligan helping the cops put a young serial killer in jail and later we see how he works to dig up the dirt on the killer to make sure he stays in jail. Meanwhile there’s a younger reporter trying to show the serial killer has been kept in jail because of trumped up charges from wardens. They are in a race with very different goals, but in the end they need to work together in order to save someone dear to the young reporter’s heart.
What makes this novel so great? It’s the fact that is all seems so real, with the involvement of politics, a shock jock, lawyers… It’s almost as if you’re reading a true crime novel, just gripping you in a way as you soon forget this is all just fiction. Part of it can be explained by the fact this one was inspired by a true story, but most of it comes from the excellent way DeSilva plays with the several POV’s and the crips, reporter-style writing.
This one puts Bruce DeSilva into Michael Connelly territory and personally I think this could be a great DeNiro / Pacino vehicle.

Background Check on: Providence Rag (Liam Mulligan) by Bruce DeSilva

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Mar 122014

Bruce DeSilva, reviewer and writer’s new novel, Providence Rag comes out this month and I find out what’s it all about right here…

Q: Tell us what to expect from your new book, PROVIDENCE RAG.
A: Providence Rag is the third novel in my Edgar Award-winning hardboiled crime series featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter for a dying newspaper in Providence, R.I. The book was inspired by a true story – one I covered as a journalist many years ago. I’ve long been fascinated by the case of Craig Price, The Warwick Slasher, a teenager who stabbed two young women and two female children to death in his suburban Rhode Island neighborhood before he was old enough to drive. Price was just thirteen when his murder spree began and fifteen when he was caught, making him one of the youngest serial killers in U.S. history. But that’s not the interesting part.
When he was arrested in 1989, Rhode Island’s juvenile justice statutes had not been updated for decades. When they were written, no one had ever envisioned a child like him, so the law required that all minors, regardless of their crimes, be released at age 21 and given a fresh start. Nevertheless, he remains behind bars to this day, convicted of committing a series of jailhouse offenses.
I have long suspected that some of these charges were fabricated, but in the very least, Price has been absurdly over-sentenced. For example, he was given an astounding 30 years for contempt for declining to submit to a court-ordered psychiatric examination. Have the authorities abused their power to prevent his release? I think so. Should he ever be let out to kill again? Absolutely not. The ethical dilemma this poses fascinates me. No matter which side of it you come down on, you are condoning something that is reprehensible.
In the novel, the murders are committed and the killer caught in the first seventy-five pages. The rest of the book follows Mulligan, his fellow reporters, his editors, and the entire community, as they struggle to decide which is worse: condoning the abuse of power that is keeping the killer behind bars or exposing it and allowing him to be released to kill again. With powerful forces on both sides of the question, the suspense mounts as it becomes increasingly likely that the psychopath will be set free.

Q: What scenes did you enjoy writing the most?
The narrative is broken by thirteen italicized passages that allow readers peers directly into the mind of the psychotic killer from early childhood to middle age. I loved writing them because the rest of the book is heavy on dialogue, and these scenes gave me the opportunity to write in a more lyrical voice. They are important because when the killer speaks elsewhere in the novel, he mostly lies. They’re pretty creepy, though. I wonder what it says about me that I found it easy to imagine how the monster thinks.

Q: Who is your favorite among the characters in the book?
I have a fondness for Fiona McNerney, a close childhood friend of my protagonist and former a Little Sisters of the Poor nun, who is now serving as the state’s embattled governor.
Because of her take-no-prisoners approach to politics, headline writers have dubbed her Attila the Nun.

Q: How long did it take you to write it?
When I’m working on a novel, my goal is to write at least a thousand good words a day. If I accomplish that in a couple of hours, I can give myself the rest of the day off. But if I don’t have a thousand good words after eight hours, I have to keep my butt in the chair until I reach my goal. By doing that, I should be able to turn out an eighty-thousand-word novel in eighty days. Of course, it never quite works out like that. Some days, when life intrudes, I don’t write at all. There are household chores to be done, ballgames and blues concerts to attend, vacations to take, family obligations to be met. Including such interruptions, Providence Rag, my most complex book to date, was completed in six months.

Q: Did writing the book take a lot of research?
Yes and no. When I covered the real-life story for Rhode Island Monthy magazine years ago, I did a lot of research about the state’s juvenile justice laws and the state prison system. I interviewed the police detectives and forensics experts who worked the case. I read a lot of research about the minds of serial murderers and interviewed experts including Robert K. Ressler, the retired FBI agent credited with coining the term “serial killer.” So all I had to do for the book was brush up on the most recent research on the subject. Thanks to Google, that took less than a day.

Q: Will we see Liam return after PROVIDENCE RAG?
Absolutely. I just finished the fourth Mulligan novel, tentatively titled Providence Vipers, which explores the world of legal and illegal sports gambling. It will be published in hardcover and e-book formats by Forge about a year from now. Once I return from a month-long, coast-to-coast book tour in early April, I’ll dive into three new projects. One will be the fifth Mulligan novel. Another will be a stand-alone, or perhaps the beginning of a new series, featuring a young man who is trying to decide which side of the law to live his life on. And the third will be a collaboration with my wife, the poet Patricia Smith, on a novel set in her native Chicago. I’ve made small starts on all three, but I’m not sure which one I’ll finish first.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to say about the book?
Although the characters and plots of my first two crime novels, Rogue Island and Cliff Walk, sprang entirely from my imagination, this has not prevented some readers that suspecting each was a Roman à clef. No, I tell them, the mayor in my books is not a thinly-veiled depiction of former Providence Mayor Vincent A. Cianci. No, the attorney general is not my take on former Rhode Island Attorney General Arlene Violet. Despite my protests, readers continue to speculate. In fact, two of my old journalism colleagues are convinced that my protagonist is based on them. He’s not. Because of this, I initially resisted the urge to fictionalize the Price case.
In the novel, I invent an early childhood for the killer. I give him a love of reading, allow him to display a clever but chilling sense of humor, and provide him with a prison jargon-laced style of speaking. But I have never met Craig Price. I know nothing of his childhood. I don’t know how he talks. I don’t know what drove him to murder. So the character in my novel is most emphatically not Craig Price. None of the other characters in the book represent real people either. Of course, every novelist draws material from life and fashions it into something new.
Still, I can’t help but worry that some readers will view the book as disguised contemporary history. That made Providence Rag a difficult, nerve-wracking book to write.

You can learn more about me on my website:

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

 Background Check, Bruce DeSilva, Hardboiled Collective, Liam Mulligan  Comments Off on Background Check on: Cliff Walk (Liam Mulligan) by Bruce DeSilva
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

 Bruce DeSilva, Hardboiled Collective, Liam Mulligan, Review  Comments Off on Cliff Walk (Liam Mulligan) by Bruce DeSilva
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!