Rhode Island horror story

Bruce DeSilva revisits the Craig Price case in his novel, 'Providence Rag'
By PHILIP EIL  |  March 26, 2014


Bruce DeSilva has a knack for timing.

The last time the veteran journalist-turned-crime novel author passed through Rhode Island on a book tour, his discussion of Cliff Walk — the second installment in his Liam Mulligan series — took place at the Providence Public Library, while, across the street, reporters and news trucks descended on 38 Studios headquarters in ravenous pursuit of the latest news from the company’s implosion. (Earlier in the day, Governor Lincoln Chafee had announced the company had laid off all its employees.) That day, the line between the real Rhode Island and the Rhode Island of DeSilva’s fiction (he read aloud an excerpt about a shootout at a Providence strip club called the Tongue and Groove) was indistinguishable.

This time, DeSilva returns to the Ocean State in the wake of a multi-agency raid of the RI Speaker of the House’s office and a mad scramble by rival House factions to fill the power vacuum after the Speaker’s resignation. It’s a climate that brings to mind passages from DeSilva’s award-winning 2011 debut, Rogue Island: the moment one character is described as “[rising] through the ranks the Rhode Island way, slipping envelopes to the mayor’s bagman” or when the narrator, an investigative reporter, muses on “Rhode Island’s leading service industry”: graft.

“Those of us who live here know that it comes in two varieties, good and bad, just like cholesterol,” Liam Mulligan says. “The bad kind enriches politicians and their greedy friends at taxpayers’ expense. The good kind supplements the wages of underpaid government workers, puts braces on their kids’ teeth, builds college funds.”

DeSilva’s third novel, Providence Rag, released earlier this month, features many of the characters we’ve come to love: Mulligan, the wise-cracking, cigar-smoking scribe who cruises the state in a beat-up car nicknamed “Secretariat,” while filing stories for a dying ProJo doppelganger, The Providence Dispatch; Mason, his blue-blood, Jaguar-driving protégé whose family owns the Dispatch (he lives in a Newport mansion; Mulligan calls him “Thanks-Dad”); Gloria Costa, the ace photographer who lost an eye during an ugly scene from one of the previous books; and Whoosh, the bookie who takes Mulligan’s sports bets from an office above a Providence convenience store.

But, once again, Rhode Island is the book’s biggest star. Characters drive around Warwick listening to News Talk 630 WPRO. They hold meetings at Dunkin’ Donuts. They reminisce about Dickey Simpkins and bygone PC Friars basketball lineups. They say things like, “It was hard to keep a secret in a state as small as Rhode Island.” And they occasionally stage riots outside the Superior Courthouse on Benefit Street in Providence.

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