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Rogue Island (Liam Mulligan) Hardcover – October 12, 2010
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*Starred Review* Born and raised in the Mount Hope section of Providence, Rhode Island, journalist Liam Mulligan won’t simply report on the rash of arsons killing lifelong friends and loved ones in his old neighborhood. He wants to know more and launches an investigation, discovering a heavy-handed plot to own Mount Hope in order to redevelop it. Along the way, he’s threatened, beaten, arrested on suspicion of arson and murder, suspended from his newspaper, and targeted with a Mob contract on his life. Mulligan must turn to some unlikely allies to save his tired old neighborhood and secure justice. Rogue Island has everything a crime fan could want: a stubborn, street-smart hero with a snarky sense of humor; more than a baker’s dozen of engaging characters; a fast-paced plot; a noirish style; a realistic postmillennium newspaper setting; mean, pot-holed streets; and, best of all, a knowing portrait of a small city and a tiny state famous for inept government, jiggery-pokery, and corruption. Debut novelist DeSilva began a four-decade career in journalism as a reporter for the Providence Journal, and his take on the city and state is harsh but also affectionate, as when he describes graft as Rhode Island’s “leading service industry,” noting that “it comes in two varieties, good and bad, just like cholesterol.” This tremendously entertaining crime novel is definitely one of the best of the year. --Thomas Gaughan
"Rogue Island" has been short-listed for the prestigious Edgar Award and the Anthony Award, both in the best first novel category and is a Publishers Weekly selection as one of the best first novels of 2010 -- Publishers Weekly
"This tremendously entertaining crime novel is definitely one of the best of the year." -- a starred review --Booklist
"The smallest state bursts with crime, corruption, wisecracks, and neo-noir atmosphere in Bruce DeSilva's blistering debut." --Kirkus Reviews
"Rogue Island is a winner. . . . Boy did it deliver." -- Library Journal
Rogue Island "has raised the bar for all books of its kind" --The Dallas Morning News
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In the course of his journalistic crusading, Mulligan interacts with a progression of stereotypes from decades past: the Italian goombah ("Aaay, Vinnie!" "Fuhgeddaboudit."), the long-suffering editor (think Perry White or J. Jonah Jameson), the screeching shrew of an obscenity-spewing ex-wife and various hot women who naturally all want to sleep with Mulligan. He attends funerals for the arsonist's victims where DeSilva's attempts at unearned pathos fall flat. It's hard to feel anything for the dead when, by DeSilva's own accounting, the only people who live in Rhode Island are cartoon characters. It would be like mourning Wile E. Coyote. Later in the book, DeSilva displays a profoundly dysfunctional sense of irony when Mulligan smirks at a cliche-ridden broadcast from the local TV news airheads. "Who the hell writes that crap?" he wonders.
Mulligan isn't the only thing old-school about "Rogue Island." DeSilva spent 40-odd years working in the news media, and it's obvious he misses the pre-Internet days of print journalism: when grizzled old veterans did almost as much drinking and smoking at their desks as they did writing; when people communicated in complete sentences that often exceeded 140 characters; when everyone not shepherding late editions congregated after work at the nearby "newspaper bar" until closing, then went home with whomever. I don't blame him. I came into the biz at the tail end of that era and was lucky enough to learn my trade under those grizzled old vets. In many ways, those days were much more interesting and colorful than today's sterile, corporate newsrooms. Unfortunately, that time is gone, and it's not coming back. If DeSilva wanted to cling to the past, he should have set his novel in the past. Or he should have made a more serious attempt at addressing the newsroom dichotomy between the slow but accurate newspaper relics and the leap-before-you-look Twitterverse. Cramming his story into a modern framework makes it seem anachronistic and out of touch, less of a realistic, gripping thriller and more of an empty exercise in homage to the many crime writers DeSilva checks by name throughout his text.
Inevitably, I suppose, the second novel featuring Liam Mulligan came out shortly after I bought "Rogue Island." That is one modern aspect of DeSilva's writing: Everything's a franchise in the mystery genre these days. Standalone crime novels are becoming a rarity as characters return again and again for repeat performances. If I'd known "Rogue Island" was the inaugural volume of the Continuing Adventures of Liam Mulligan, I doubt I would've picked it up.
Like many series characters, Liam Mulligan has a bad case of the smartypants. Since the days when Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe antagonized cops, clients and crooks alike with his razor one-liners, fictional detectives have been moonlighting as stand-up comics. The big difference is that Marlowe was genuinely witty, his dialog an absolute joy to read. Many of his sleuthing progeny are merely asking for a slap upside the head. When I began to hear mental rimshots every time Mulligan dropped a line, I started rooting for the bad guys to beat him harder.
Even I am not totally immune to the franchise detective, but my series character dance card has long since been filled by the likes of Dave Robicheaux, Kenzie and Gennaro, Hap and Leonard, Burke, Parker and too many others. Anyone who wants to be added to that list had better impress me with their originality or mad writing skills. "Rogue Island" is strictly stock, forgoing believable characters in favor of archetypes from an old B&W on Turner Classic Movies. If DeSilva is just going to rehash the classics, why should I bother? I still have plenty of the originals in my to-read piles.
I realize I'm the one being anachronistic and out of touch in my prejudice against this brand of mysteries. If franchise heroes didn't sell, there wouldn't be so dadgum many of them being written and published. Readers like them. They eat up every installment, then clamor for more adventures featuring their favorite crimefighter, stories told in a comforting first person that ensures nothing too terribly awful will happen and that guarantees there will be another sequel.
DeSilva's broad sense of humor is certain to appeal to many of those mystery fans:
"Seems that last week, the mayor's probable opponent in next fall's election had legally changed her name from Angelina V. Rico to Angelina V. aRico so she would be listed first alphabetically on the ballot. But yesterday, Mayor Rocco D. Carozza legally changed his name to Rocco D. aaaaCarozza."
If that made you laugh, I have good news for you: There's two novels' worth of "more where that came from" for you to look forward to. If, on the other hand, that made you roll your eyes and heave a sigh, chances are that, like me, you are a humorless bastard who needs to look for his kicks elsewhere. I also could have done without DeSilva's clumsy attempts to shill for his wife's crummy poetry by shoehorning it in where it doesn't belong.
There are armies of readers who live on a steady diet of the kind of easy reading DeSilva serves up. It's not that he's a bad writer. He's quite competent at what he does, but what he does is of no interest to me personally.
Newspaperman Liam Mulligan is a true son on Providence, RI. His beat isn’t the elite. It’s the crooks, mobsters, and hookers, as well as the police and fire departments. Now, someone is starting fires in his old neighborhood. First, it’s just empty buildings. Until it’s not. Mulligan wants to know who, and what, is behind it. Trying to get the answers may cost him his life.
DeSilva’s opening is not only heartbreaking, but the implications are terrifying. Seven arson fires with a half-mile in three months is no accident.
It’s hard to tell about other places, but if one is from the East Coast--meaning from New Jersey to Boston’s North Shore--this book is very recognizable, and very effective. Providence is a small, tight community, especially amongst those who have been there for generations, and you feel that. “When a Rhode Islander needs something he can’t flat out steal, there are two ways to get it. …Chances are, in a state this small, you know somebody who can help. … No? Then you have the option of offering a small gratuity. Graft, Rhode Island’s leading service industry, is widely misunderstood by citizens of states you can’t stroll across on your lunch break. Those of us who live here know that it comes in two varieties, good and bad, just like cholesterol.”
DeSilva’s characters are very real. There are good guys, bad guys, and many who are varying shades of grey. Mulligan, Rosie, the first female fire chief, and Edward Anthony Mason IV, son of the newspaper’s owner and referred to as “Thanks-Dad” by Mulligan, are definitely the good guys. You enjoy them and worry about them. DeSilva’s prognostication of the newspaper industry is depressing and one we’ve come to see.
The language is what one would expect to find among people of this rank so if one is profanity-adverse, this is not the book for you. However, if you like sarcasm and well-done narration that occasionally makes you chuckle, one should enjoy this. A side note is that DeSilva incorporates his wife’s poem and his daughter’s name into the story. Yes, it does pay to read the author notes.
DeSilva’s descriptions are so effective—“I heard the fire before I felt it, the flames sounding like a thousand flags snapping in the wind. I felt it before I saw it, the head like a backhand slap from the devil.” History buffs will appreciate the historical information that runs through the story.
“Rogue Island” has humor and a bit of romance, but the underlying crimes are very serious and have heart-breaking consequences. In the end, it is a story of trust, betrayal and justice, realized in an unorthodox way.
ROGUE ISLAND (Lic Inv/Jour-Liam Mulligan- Providence, RI-Contemp) – G+
DeSilva, Bruce – 1st in series
Forge – 2010
The story itself is an interesting twist on an arson-for-profit crime. But the secondary characters – cops, gangsters, women angling to sleep with the MC – are straight out of central casting. The here climax isn’t a true resolution, just an ending. Yes, the bad guys pay the price for their crimes, but DeSilva gives a more satisfying wrap-up to several sub-plots than the main one.
I didn’t hate this book but it didn’t really reach the level of okay either. So call it 2½ stars: Not good enough to read more.