Even Providence's much-touted "renaissance" couldn't sweep all traces of organized crime and post-industrial grime from TV screens and the written page. Shortly after NBC's bright and perky soap Providence aired its final episode, a sprawling noir Showtime series called Brotherhood stepped in to take its place. Using Providence as its classroom, the show is a survey course in illegal activity: from bookmaking to prostitution to drug-dealing to an array of bodily assaults (a bashed knee, a torn-out earring, a finger broken for persuasive purposes).
The show's creator, Blake Masters, describes the city over the phone from Los Angeles as if he were peering out a window onto Federal Hill's Carpenter Street, where he filmed the fictional home of his main character, state legislator Tommy Caffee.
"I think thriller has become the kind of modern word for 'noir,' " Masters says. Thanks to the ethnic tribalism, the old-school machine politics, the neighborhoods with triple-decker houses built practically on top of each other, Providence was a perfect place for the grim, tense mood of his show. He remembers scouting locations for the bar where Tommy Caffee's brother, Michael, will establish the headquarters of his criminal enterprise. Driving through Providence, Masters found an out-of-the-way dive where someone was shooting heroin in the parking lot. They had come to the right place.
Today, booksellers overflow with Providence-based thrillers. Next year, Mysterious Press will reissue e-versions of Rosen's three mysteries: Strike Three, You're Dead, Fadeaway, and Dead Ball. Bruce DeSilva says his third novel, Providence Rag, will hit shelves sometime in late 2013, taking its place alongside former Journal reporter Mark Arsenault's Providence-based mysteries Gravewriter and Loot the Moon. The books, Arsenault says, were inspired by leftovers from long interviews with the notorious killer Craig Price in the ACI's SuperMax ward, legends floating around the Armory neighborhood where the author lived (like the parking ticket affixed to a car with a bullet-ridden corpse still inside), and the "perverse pride" some Rhode Islanders take in its state's reputation as a stewpot of corruption.
Indeed, whatever is cooking in Providence seems to have wafted its way over the middle of the country. Jamie McGuire was living in Enid and Ponca City, Oklahoma when she wrote her debut Young Adult paranormal thriller, Providence, in which demons team up with dirty cops and good guys (who are angels) have the capabilities of "James Bond times a thousand." She had never been to Providence when she wrote the book, she says. Instead, she used online photographs and frequent calls to the chamber of commerce. McGuire's later books have vaulted her onto the New York Times bestseller list. She now has plans to shop Providence around as a Walking Dead-style serial TV thriller.
By the time these words hit your eyeballs, the countdown will have already begun.
No, I'm not turning this article into a thriller (though I do have one in mind involving murder and Providence's famed Corliss Steam Engine). I'm talking about the ticking clock of National Novel Writing Month — the best excuse for you to finally write that thriller that's tickling your brain stem.