It Was As If Joe Friday Had Been Stripped of His Badge

dread lineAn unanticipated disaster struck as I was writing the fourth novel in my hard-boiled series of crime novels featuring investigative reporter Liam Mulligan: The failing Providence, R.I. newspaper he had been working for abruptly fired him, creating a crisis for both of us.

It was a crisis for Mulligan because he considered journalism his calling, like the priesthood but without the sex. He’d always said that he could never be good at anything else—that if he couldn’t be a reporter, he’d end up selling pencils out of a tin cup.

It was a crisis for me because I owed my publisher another Mulligan yarn.

What was Mulligan going to do now? How would he make a living? And more importantly, how could he continue his life’s work of exposing greed and corruption? It was as if Joe Friday had been stripped of his badge, as if Superman had lost his cape, as if Robert B. Parker’s Spenser couldn’t be a private investigator anymore.

As I sat down to write, the first thing Mulligan and I had to do was invent a new life for him.

I’d never planned on Mulligan getting fired. Fact is, I don’t plan anything when I write. I don’t outline. I never think very far ahead. I just set my characters in motion to see what they will do. But looking back on it now, I can see that Mulligan’s firing was inevitable.

When I first made him a newspaper journalist in my debut novel, Rogue Island, I didn’t know that the book would be the first in a series, so I gave no thought to the possibility that I was writing myself into a corner. I made him an investigative reporter in Providence for three reasons.

  1. I’d been one myself, and they say you should write what you know.
  2. Reporters can’t get search warrants or drag people in for questioning, which sometimes makes their jobs more challenging than police work. But they also have an advantage because a lot of people who talk to reporters would never spill anything to the cops.
  3. But the main reason is that I wanted my novel not only to be suspenseful and entertaining but also to address a serious social issue.

American newspapers are circling the drain. Many already have gone belly up, and economic changes triggered by the internet have forced virtually all of them to slash their news staffs. This is a slow-motion disaster for the American democracy, because there is nothing on the horizon to replace newspapers as honest and comprehensive brokers of news and information.

As someone who spent forty years in the news business, I’ve always been annoyed that journalists are usually portrayed as vultures in the popular culture. The truth is that most of them are hard-working, low-paid professionals dedicated to digging out the truth in a world full of powerful people who lie as often as the rest of us breathe.

It was my hope that as readers followed the skill and relentlessness with which Mulligan worked, they would gain a greater appreciation for what is being lost as newspapers fade away. I made that first novel both a compelling yarn and a lyrical epitaph for the business that Mulligan and I both love.

But as the first novel led to a second, and then several more, the financial health of Mulligan’s employer, the fictional Providence Dispatch, became increasingly desperate. Circulation shrunk, advertising dried up, and hordes of Mulligan’s newsroom colleagues got bought out or laid off.

Fiction followed fact as the once-great Providence Journal, on which The Dispatch was loosely based, also spiraled downward. The newspaper had 340 newsroom employees when I worked there in the early 1980s. It has only 37 reporters and columnists now, and another buyout has just been announced by the chain that bought it a few years back.

As I was completing my fourth novel, A Scourge of Vipers, it became evident that Mulligan’s newspaper career, too, was coming to an end. The Dispatch had been sold off to a predatory conglomerate that had no interest in investigative stories and saw news as something to fill the spaces between the ads. Forced to spend most of his working hours on the routine tasks of putting out a daily newspaper, Mulligan ended up doing most of his investigative reporting on his own time. And his increasingly heated squabbles with his editors were making life untenable for both of them.

By the time that novel ended, Mulligan had been fired in spectacular fashion, accused of a journalism ethics violation that he had not committed. So as I began The Dread Line, the new novel in the series, Mulligan and I sat down together and looked back over his life, considering whether it offered him any hope for the future. There, we discovered a handful of possibilities.

Edward Mason, his young colleague at the paper, was leaving to start a local news website and invited Mulligan to join him. But the new business wasn’t making any money yet, so Mason could only offer starvation wages. Mulligan’s pal Bruce McCracken ran a private detective agency, so perhaps Mulligan could do some work for him. And Mulligan’s mobbed-up friend Dominic Zerilli was retiring to Florida and needed somebody to run his bookmaking business.

What should Mulligan do? Why not all three?

The opening of The Dread Line finds him no longer living in his squalid apartment in a run-down Providence triple-decker. Instead, he’s keeping house in a five-room, water-front cottage on Conanicut Island at the entrance to Narragansett Bay. He’s getting some part-time work from McCracken, although it rarely pays enough to cover his bills. He’s picking up beer and cigar money freelancing for the news website. And he’s running the bookmaking business with help from his thuggish pal, a former strip-club bouncer named Joseph DeLucca.

For the first time in his life, Mulligan has a little money in his pocket at the end of the month. After twenty years as a newspaper reporter, he says it feels strange to be living above the poverty line—and even stranger to be a lawbreaker. But as Mulligan and I see it, he’s not breaking any important ones.

And of course, he still manages to find trouble when it isn’t finding him.

He’s feuding with a feral tomcat that keeps leaving its kills on his porch. He’s obsessed with a baffling jewelry heist. And he’s enraged that someone on the island is torturing animals. All of this keeps distracting him from a big case that needs his attention.

Aaron Hernandez

Aaron Hernandez

The New England Patriots, still shaken by a series of murder charges against Aaron Hernandez, one of their star players (true story) have hired Mulligan and McCracken (not a true story) to investigate the background of a college star they are thinking of drafting. The player appears to be a choirboy, so at first, the job seems routine. But as soon as they start asking questions, they get push-back.

The player has something to hide, and someone is willing to kill to make sure it remains secret.

Mulligan may not be an investigative reporter anymore, but he and I are still in the crime-busting business.

To order The Dread Line by Bruce DeSilva from a choice of independent or chain online bookstores, please click here. 

This article first appeared on mystery author, TV writer, and book publisher Lee Goldberg’s blog. Check it out here for some thoughtful pieces about writing.

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James Grady, One of the Greatest Thriller Writers of All Time, Raves about “The Dread Line”

James Grady

James Grady

James Grady, whose novels include Last Days of the Condor and Six Days of the Condor, perhaps the finest thriller ever written, says this about The Dread Line, the new book in my Edgar Award-winning series of crime novels:

“With his series about ex-reporter turned private eye Liam Mulligan, Bruce DeSilva is creating a path through our confusing times, told with a classic style of the master mystery authors whose ranks he’s now joined. The Dread Line gives readers a roguish private eye hero they can root for, a character who faces the worst of our culture and the worst he can be, tries to face that all while delivering justice and finding some personal peace. The Dread Line does what too many modern novels avoid: it delivers entertainment while taking a stand. A winner of a book.”

Thank you, James. I’m honored.

dread lineIn the new novel, the New England Patriots, still shaken by a series of murder charges against one of their star players (true story) hire Mulligan  (not a true story) to investigate the background of a college star they are thinking of drafting. At first, the job seems routine, but as soon as they begin asking questions, they get push-back. The player has something to hide, and someone is willing to kill to make sure it remains secret.

To order The Dread Line by Bruce DeSilva from a choice of independent or chain online bookstores, please click here. 

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Book Tour Schedule for “The Dread Line,” My New Mulligan Crime Novel

dread lineI’ll be touring in September, and possibly part of October, talking to readers and signing copies of The Dread Line. The book is the latest in my Edgar Award-winning series of hardboiled crime novel featuring Liam Mulligan. Please come by to see me if I’m in a city or town near you.

Here’s the schedule so far, but there may be some additions later:

  • Sept. 07, 06:30 PM
    Loontjens Memorial Library, 35 Kingstown Rd., Narragansett, RI
  • Sept. 08, 5:30 PM
    Readmore Books, 330 Winthrop St., Taunton, MA
  • Sept. 14, 06:30 PM
    Murder By the Book bookstore, 2342 Bissonnet St., Houston, TX, where I’ll be appearing with Reed Farrel Coleman.
  • Sept. 15, 7:00 PM
    Poisoned Pen Bookstore, 4014 N. Goldwater Blvd, Scottsdale, AZ, where I’ll be appearing with Reed Farrel Coleman.
  • Sept. 16- 17
    Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, Mariott Hotel, 555 Canal Street, New Orleans, LA
  • Sept. 21, 6:30 PM
    Providence Public Library, 150 Empire St, Providence, RI, US 

    Yup, that's me

    Yup, that’s me

    In the new novel, the New England Patriots, still shaken by a series of murder charges against one of their star players (true story) have hired Mulligan and McCracken (not a true story) to investigate the background of a college star they are thinking of drafting. At first, the job seems routine, but as soon as they begin asking questions, they get push-back. The player has something to hide, and someone is willing to kill to make sure it remains secret.

    To order The Dread Line by Bruce DeSilva from a choice of independent or chain online bookstores, please click here. 

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How I Made the Transition From Journalist to Crime Novelist

dread lineA lot of people think that daily journalism must be a great training ground for novelists. I tell them that, for the most part, it is not.

As someone who worked as a news reporter and editor for forty years before writing crime novels, I was never comfortable with the bad writing habits and journalistic traditions that make most news writing unnecessarily turgid and tedious. In fact, I spent my career at The Providence Journal, The Hartford Courant and The Associated Press rebelling against those traditions and the editors who enforce them.

I wanted to write about real flesh-and-blood characters, but most news stories are populated by stick figures identified by little more than name, age and job title. I wanted to set my stories in real places, but most news stories use street addresses in lieu of a sense of place. I wanted to write yarns with beginnings, middles and ends, but most news stories are “articles” that insert information in order of its importance and then dribble pitifully to an end.

But the biggest fault I find with most news reports is that they are written in “journalese,” a standard journalistic voice that is stiffly formal, humorless, devoid of personality, and filled with bizarre sentence structures found nowhere else in English.

The best way to understand journalism’s voice problem is to take a fine piece of writing that we are all familiar with and imagine what it would look like if a journalist had written it.

Consider the first sentence of the King James version of the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth.”

Nice sentence. It’s simple, clear, and tells a big story in very few words.  But if the typical journalist had written it, it would have come out something like this:

“In a series of surprise moves intended to bring all of creation into existence out of what leading scientists call the ‘singularity,’ before  energy, matter or even time existed, God yesterday said ‘Let there be light,’ according to reliable sources close to the project.”

If a journalist had written the Bible, I doubt anyone would have read it.

Voice, after all, is critical to the written word. It’s the reason we have favorite writers. It’s not what a writer has to say but how he or she says it that brings readers back story after story or book after book. It works the same way in books as it does in life. Suppose you are at a party where someone is telling a story. It’s not the story that makes people crowd around to listen. It’s the storyteller. If someone else were talking, nobody would pay attention.

Robert B. Parker

Robert B. Parker

The best writers know that readers don’t read with their eyes. They really read with their ears. They hear the writer talking to them from the page, and what that voice sounds like is critical. The late great Robert B. Parker once told me that the main reason readers loved his Spenser and Jesse Stone novels is the same reason they love certain songs. They like the way they sound.

One of the reasons some fine journalists leave the profession to become novelists is that they want to be free to write well; and some, such as Michael Connelly and Ace Atkins, succeed spectacularly. But many former journalists who aspire to write novels tell me that they struggle because they find the transition from “journalese” to good writing difficult.

Me? I can’t begin to write a novel until I fashion a paragraph that gets the voice just right. Everything flows from that.

When I began The Dread Line, the new novel in my Edgar Award-winning series featuring a former investigative reporter in Providence, R.I., the paragraph that did the trick was this:

“He was a serial killer, but I didn’t hold that against him. It was just his nature. The way he killed irked me some. His victims were all missing their heads. But what I couldn’t abide was his habit of using my porch as a dump site.”

The killer turns out to be a feral tomcat that was leaving its daily kills on Mulligan’s porch, but that paragraph had the voice and the hard-boiled mood, that I was seeking. With that, I was off and running.

As a journalist, I was one of the lucky ones. Unlike many reporters burdened with editors who rigidly enforce harmful journalism traditions, I was blessed with a number of bosses who encouraged me to be a storyteller—and even to teach my colleagues how to do it.

And unlike most journalists, I spent much of my career writing and editing local, national, and international investigative stories, developing skills that I could pass on to the hero of my hard-boiled crime novels.

Yup, that's me

Yup, that’s me

During my four decades in the news business, I also came to know hundreds of cops and FBI agents, lawyers and judges, mobsters and corrupt politicians, con artists and drug dealers, hitmen and gangbangers, prostitutes and snitches—experiences I draw on to create characters and plots.

But the main lesson I carried with me when I retired from the Associated Press seven years ago to write crime novels was this:  Writing is a job. You do it every day, whether you feel like it or not. You do not wait for inspiration. You do not dither hoping that your muse will turn up. You put your butt in your desk chair and write.

To order The Dread Line by Bruce DeSilva from a choice of independent or chain online bookstores, please click here. 

This article first appeared on The Writer’s Forensics Blog of physician and mystery writer D.P. Lyle. For more of what he has to offer, please click here.

 

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What’s a Mystery Writer to Do When His Hero Loses His Crime-Fighting Job?

cover1A lot of mystery story heroes used to do something else for a living.

For example, Robert B. Parker’s series character, Jesse Stone, was a professional baseball player before he became a police chief. Ace Atkins’s Quinn Colson was a soldier before he became a small-town lawman. Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder was a cop before he became a private eye.

But what nearly all of the job-changing heroes of crime fiction have in common is that their old jobs are part of their backstories. They already had begun their new lives when their creators started telling their stories.

The lone exception I can think of (although with tens of thousands of mystery novels out there, there must be a few more) is Bill Loehfelm’s Maureen Coughlin, who was introduced as a Staten Island barmaid in The Devil She Knows and then morphed into a rookie New Orleans cop in The Devil in Her Way.

With a dearth of role models for inspiration, I wasn’t sure what to do when Liam Mulligan, the hero of my hard-boiled crime novels, got fired from his investigative reporter job at the fictional Providence (R.I.) Dispatch in A Scourge of Vipers, the fourth book in the Edgar Award-winning series. But I had to figure out something. I owed my publisher another Mulligan yarn.

I hadn’t planned on Mulligan getting fired. Fact is, when I write I don’t plan anything. I just set my characters in motion to see what will happen. But looking back on it, I can see that Mulligan’s firing was inevitable.

When I first made him an investigative reporter at a struggling metropolitan newspaper, I had my reasons. I’d been an investigative reporter in Providence, too, and they say you should write what you know. I liked the fact that reporters can’t bring people in for questioning, get court orders to search houses and businesses, or compel people to testify, because it sometimes makes their jobs more challenging than police work. I liked it that unlike private eyes, reporters are supposed to adhere to a strict code of ethical conduct.

But the main reason is that I wanted my novels to be not only suspenseful and entertaining but to also address a serious social issue.

American newspapers are circling the drain. In recent years, many have shut down, and economic changes brought on by the internet have forced virtually all of them to slash the size of their news staffs. Soon, many more will be gone. This is a slow-motion disaster for the American democracy, because there is nothing on the horizon to replace newspapers as honest and comprehensive brokers of news and information.

It has always bothered me that in the popular culture, journalists are usually portrayed as vultures. The truth is that the vast majority of them are hard-working, low-paid professionals dedicated to the difficult task of reporting the truth in a world full of powerful people who lie like you and I breathe.

So it was my hope that as my readers followed the skill and dedication with which Mulligan worked, they would gain a greater appreciation what is being lost as newspapers fade into history. I strove to make the first four novels in this series both compelling yarns and a lyrical epitaph for the business that Mulligan and I both love.

With each novel in the series, The Dispatch’s finances became increasingly desperate, more and more of Mulligan’s colleagues got laid off, and his own job security grew perilous. As I was completing A Scourge of Vipers, it became evident that his newspaper career was coming to an end.

The Dispatch had been sold off to a predatory conglomerate that had no interest in investigative stories and saw news as something to fill the spaces between the ads. And Mulligan’s squabbles with his editors were making life untenable for both of them. By the time that novel ended, Mulligan had been fired in spectacular fashion, accused of a journalism ethics violation that he had not committed.

So as I sat down to write The Dread Line, I needed to invent a new life for him.

Mulligan had always said that he was a newspaper man because he could never be good at anything else. As he saw it, being a journalist was his calling, like the priesthood but without the sex. He figured that if he couldn’t be a reporter, he’d end up selling pencils out of a tin cup.

But as I looked back over Mulligan’s life, I realized he did have a few possibilities. Edward Mason, his young colleague at the paper, was leaving to start a local news website and wanted Mulligan to come with him. But the new business wasn’t making any money yet, so the job didn’t pay much. Mulligan’s pal Bruce McCracken ran a private detective agency, so perhaps Mulligan could do some work for him. And Mulligan’s mobbed-up friend Dominic Zerilli was retiring to Florida and needed somebody to run his bookmaking business.

What should Mulligan do? How about all three?

The opening of The Dread Line finds him no longer living in his squalid apartment in a run-down Providence triple-decker. Instead, he’s keeping house in a five-room, water-front cottage on Conanicut Island at the entrance to Narragansett Bay. He’s getting some part-time work from McCracken, although it rarely pays enough to cover his bills. He’s picking up beer and cigar money freelancing for the news website. And he’s running the bookmaking business with help from his thuggish pal, Joseph DeLucca.

a

Conanicut Island, where Mulligan now lives.

For the first time in his life, he’s got a little money in his pocket at the end of the month. After twenty years as a reporter, he feels odd living above the poverty line—and even odder to be a lawbreaker. But as Mulligan puts it, he’s not breaking any important ones.

And of course, he still manages to find trouble when it isn’t finding him.

He’s feuding with a feral tomcat that keeps leaving its kills on his porch. He’s obsessed with a baffling jewelry heist. And he’s enraged that someone on the island is torturing animals. All of this keeps distracting him from a big case that needs his attention.

The New England Patriots, still shaken by a series of murder charges against one of their star players (true story) have hired Mulligan and McCracken (not a true story) to investigate the background of a college star they are thinking of drafting. At first, the job seems routine, but as soon as they begin asking questions, they get push-back. The player has something to hide, and someone is willing to kill to make sure it remains secret.

Mulligan may not be an investigative reporter anymore, but he’s still in the crime-busting business.

To order The Dread Line  from a choice of independent or chain online bookstores, please click here. 

This article first appeared on the My Book Views blog. It’s got a lot of book reviews and articles that you can check out here.

 

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An Interview About My New Crime Novel, “The Dread Line”

Brian Feinblum, who runs BookMarketingBuzzBlog, interviewed me about The Dread Line, the latest novel in my Edgar Award-winning series featuring Liam Mulligan. Here is the Q&A, which first appeared on his site.

  1. What is your new book about?cover1Since getting fired from his Rhode Island newspaper job last year (A Scourge of Vipers, 2015), Liam Mulligan has been trying to piece together a new life—one that straddles both sides of the law. He’s getting some part-time work with his friend McCracken’s detective agency. He’s picking up beer money by freelancing for a local news website. And he’s looking after his semi-retired mobster-friend’s bookmaking business. But of course, he still can’t seem to stay out of trouble. In The Dread Line, the fifth book in this Edgar Award-winning series of crime novels, Mulligan is obsessed with a baffling jewelry heist, and he’s enraged that someone in town is torturing animals. All of this keeps distracting him from a big case that needs his attention. The New England Patriots, still shaken by murder charges against their superstar tight end, have hired Mulligan and McCracken to investigate the background of a college athlete they are thinking of drafting. At first, the job seems routine, but as soon as they start asking questions, they get push-back. The player, it seems, has something to hide – and someone is willing to kill to make sure it remains secret.
  1. What inspired you to write it?
Aaron Hernandez

Aaron Hernandez

Aaron Hernandez was an All-American football star drafted out of the University of Florida by the New England Patriots. For a few years, he and Rob Gronkowski formed what was without a doubt the best pair of tight ends ever to play together on the same NFL team. But Hernandez, who was in and out of trouble in college, had a dark side that was darker than anyone had imagined. In 2013, the Patriots cut him immediately when he was arrested for allegedly shooting a semi-pro football player to death. He was subsequently convicted of first degree murder.  But that wasn’t all. Among other things, he was indicted in 2015 for a double murder in Boston. I didn’t want to re-tell the familiar story as fiction, but it did get me wondering what would happen if the Patriots hired Mulligan to check out another college star.

  1. What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book?

Mulligan, whose job has always been to probe the dark hearts we pray against, drifts awfully close to the dark side himself in this novel.  I hope the book will leave readers thinking about what it is like for homicide detectives, investigative reporters and others who sometimes find themselves wondering if their work is eating away at them, threatening to turn them into the very thing that they fear.

  1. What advice do you have for writers?

Treat writing as your job—something you do every day whether you feel like it or not. Don’t wait to be inspired. Don’t sit around hoping that your muse will show up. Plant your butt down at your desk every day and write. That’s the way to get a book done.

  1. Where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?

If I knew that, I could get rich. I don’t think anybody can say where this fast-changing industry is headed. If I had to make just one guess, I’d say that both print and e-books will continue to exist side by side for at least another decade because both have their advantages. Other than that, I have no idea.

  1. What challenges did you have in writing your book?

I never outline. I just set my characters in motion to see what will happen. But I can’t really get started until I write a paragraph or two that sets the tone of the book that I want to write. For me, everything flows from that. The first thing I wrote when I started The Dread Line, was this:

“He was a serial killer, but I didn’t hold that against him. It was just his nature. The way he killed irked me some. His victims were all missing their heads. But what I couldn’t abide was his habit of using my porch as a dump site.”

I had no idea who the killer was. Worse, I didn’t want to write another serial killer book. I’d already published one (Providence Rag) based on a real case I once covered as a journalist, and reliving those terrible days had been painful for me. I had vowed never to write about a serial killer again. But I loved the feel of that paragraph—the way it set the noir mood I was after. As I pondered what to do, I looked down at Rondo, the most territorial of my two 130-pound dogs, and thought about him patrolling my big back yard, driving off every intruder from foraging deer to our neighborhood’s most efficient killer, a friend’s predatory cat. And then I knew. The serial killer in that first paragraph—which I kept as the opening of the novel—was a feral tomcat who deposited its daily kill on Mulligan’s back porch.

  1. If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours?

The great Steve Hamilton, one of very few writers ever to win TWO Edgar Awards, calls The Dread Line “the best yet in one of my favorite series ever — fast and funny, yet it packs a serious punch.  This is hard-boiled crime fiction at its finest.” Since his last book, The Second Life of Nick Mason, was published last spring, I don’t have to fret about not recommending his over mine.

To order The Dread Line  from a choice of independent or chain online bookstores, please click here. 

And please check out the great stuff on BookMarketingBuzzBlog here.

 

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How My Two Huge Dogs Became Characters in “The Dread Line”

me and the poochesI never intended to make Brady, my big lovable Bernese Mountain dog, and Rondo, my huge goofy mutt, characters in one of my hard-boiled crime novels; but when I write, they are always with me, often sitting on my feet, their big heads in my lap.

So I suppose it was inevitable—but it was also a happy accident.

The fact is that when I write, I rarely intend to do anything. I never outline. I don’t think about my plot in advance. I just set my characters in motion and discover the story as I go.

Each time I start a new book, the first thing I do is to write a paragraph that establishes its mood. Later, it may end up on the first page of the novel, or somewhere in the middle of the book, or even nowhere at all. But until I get the mood right, I can’t press on. For me, everything flows from there.

When I began The Dread Line, the fifth novel in my series featuring Liam Mulligan, the first thing I wrote was this:

“He was a serial killer, but I didn’t hold that against him. It was just his nature. The way he killed irked me some. His victims were all missing their heads. But what I couldn’t abide was his habit of using my porch as a dump site.”

I had no idea who the killer was. Worse, I didn’t want to write another serial killer book. I’d already published one (Providence Rag) based on a real case I once covered as a journalist, and reliving those terrible days had been painful for me. I had vowed never to write about a serial killer again. But I loved the feel of that paragraph—the way it set the noir mood of the novel I wanted to write.

boyz3As I pondered what to do, I looked down at Rondo, the most territorial of my 130-pound behemoths, and thought about him patrolling my big back yard, driving off every intruder from foraging deer to our neighborhood’s most efficient killer, a friend’s predatory cat.

And then I knew. The serial killer in that first paragraph—which I kept as the opening of the novel—was a feral tomcat who deposited its daily kill on Mulligan’s back porch.

To deter the killer Mulligan dubbed “Cat the Ripper,” he would need a dog. A big one. So he rescued a young Bernese Mountain dog named Brady at a local animal shelter and set him loose I the yard.

I figured that would do the trick, but the dog and the cat didn’t see it that way. When the two animals first encountered each other early one morning, Brady tried to make friends, got scratched on the face for his trouble, and immediately became terrified of the intruder.

Meanwhile, Mulligan had bigger things to worry about—the things that emerged as the main plot and sub-plots of the novel. He became obsessed with a baffling jewelry robbery. He was enraged that someone in town was kidnapping and torturing family pets. And all of this—including his vendetta with Cat the Ripper—kept distracting him from a big case that needed all of his attention.

Brady

Brady

The New England Patriots, still reeling from a double murder charge against one of their star players (true story) hired Mulligan (not a true story) to conduct a background check on a college star they were thinking of drafting. To all appearances, the player was a choirboy, so at first the case seemed routine. But as soon as he started asking questions, he got push-back. The player had a secret, and somebody was willing to kill to prevent it from being revealed.

The detective work kept Mulligan away from home for long hours, and one day he returned to find that Brady had shredded his couch, tossing stuffing all over the place. (The real Brady had never done anything like that, but the real Rondo had.) Mulligan did a little research about destructive dogs and learned that it was usually the result of separation anxiety. The solution—another dog to keep Brady company. Enter Rondo, another rescue from the local kennel.

As I sat at my keyboard day after day, Mulligan’s two dogs grew inseparable, just as my two big boys did. And soon, their personalities emerged on the page—personalities that corresponded nearly exactly to my real dogs.

Rondo was protective, displaying his suspicion of strangers by barking incessantly at them. Brady was gregarious and affectionate with every one he met. Rondo was eager to please, constantly studying Mulligan for clues about what he should do next. Brady was stubborn and independent, obeying commands to come or stay only when it suited him. Rondo loved to fetch, gleefully chasing tennis balls across the yard and carrying them back to Mulligan. Brady watched the balls sail over his head and tossed Mulligan a look that said, “You expect me to get that?

Rondo

Rondo

But the two dogs—both named after New England sports heroes (Tom Brady of the Patriots and Rajon Rondo, formerly of the Boston Celtics)—surprised me by becoming integral to the main plot. Both—but especially Rondo—were always on alert for intruders. More than once, their barking alerted Mulligan to the nighttime appearance of bad guys who intended to do him harm.

Cat the Ripper shocked me by playing a larger role too. One day, instead of depositing the corpse of a mouse or a wren on Mulligan’s porch, he showed up clutching a severed human ear in his jaws.

Although The Dread Line marks the first time in the series that Mulligan has lived with a dog, I’ve always included dogs in my novels. Why? Because they are invaluable for developing characters. You can learn a lot about people by the way they treat animals.

This article first appeared as a guest blog Janet Rudolph’s “Mystery Fanfare.” You can read more of what she has to offer here.

dread lineThe Dread Line by Bruce DeSilva is the fifth hardboiled crime novel featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter and part-time private eye in Rhode Island. To order it from a choice of independent or chain online bookstores, please click here. 

 

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“A Scourge of Vipers” — Life Imitates Art

 

US-POLITICS-CONSERVATIVES-CPACThe 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has invalidated a 2014 New Jersey law that would have allowed casinos and race tracks to take bets on sporting events. Chris Christie had pushed it through so that the state could tax the proceeds, but federal law has long outlawed sports betting except in a handful of states were it was grandfathered in.

Christie’s attempt was the inspiration for “A Scourge of Vipers,” the fourth novel in my Edgar Award-winning Mulligan series. In it, the fictional governor of Rhode Island sends the state legislature a bill to legalize sports betting. In response, rich and powerful national forces with something loose (major league sports teams and organized crime) or gain (casino operators and public employee unions) descend on the state to influence, or outright buy the votes of state legislators. Suddenly, millions of dollars flood the state–one in which the average campaign for state legislature still costs under ten thousand dollars.

The result, of course, is that all hell breaks loose.

Blues guitarist Tommy Castro reading "A Scourge of Vipers"A Scourge of Vipers by Bruce DeSilva is the fourth in my Edgar Award-winning series of hardboiled crime novels featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter for a dying newspaper in Providence, R.I.  The novel has received rave reviews in The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and a host of other publications. The fifth novel in the series, The Dread Line, will be published in September. You can order that one in advance, or order any of the books in the series, from independent or chain online bookstores by following this link.

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How the Decline of the Newspaper Business Harms Our Democracy and Has Forced My Crime Novel Hero Out of the Investigative Reporter Racket

Six years ago, when I took early retirement from my journalism career to write hard-boiled crime novels, I decided to make my protagonist a newspaper reporter instead of a cop or a private investigator. I had four good reasons.

1) They say you should write what you know, and I’d spent 40 years working as a journalist for The Providence Journal, The Hartford Courant, and the Associated Press, much of it reporting and editing local, national, and international investigative reporting.

2) I love reading private detective novels, but after all those years writing about real life, I couldn’t suspend my own disbelief enough to write one. Real private eyes are nothing like fictional ones. The real ones spend most of their time hunting down child-support delinquents, investigating pilfering from warehouses, checking the validity of insurance claims, delivering summonses in civil cases, and doing background checks on job applicants. Most go their entire careers without ever investigating a major crime.

3) Unlike cops, investigative reporters can’t subpoena records or drag someone into the station house for questioning, so in some respects, that makes their work more challenging. But they also have an advantage. A lot of people who talk to reporters would never spill anything to a cop.

4) While I wanted to write suspenseful novels that would be fun to read, I also wanted them to address a serious social issue in an entertaining way. American newspapers are circling the drain. In recent years, some have shut down, and economic changes brought on by the internet have forced virtually all of them to slash the size of their news staffs. Soon, many more will be gone. This is a slow-motion disaster for American democracy because there is nothing on the horizon to replace newspapers as honest brokers of news and information.

The old broadcast TV Networks, undercut by competition from cable, have cut way back on their reporting staffs too—and they never were all that great begin with. Cable TV news has degenerated into a swamp of celebrity news, shrieking talking heads, and, in the cases of FOX and MSNBC, warring propaganda machines for the right and left.

And the handful of online news organizations that actually strive to do an honest job draw much of their news from TV reports and dying newspapers and do not report anywhere near enough original material to make up for what is being lost.

Sure, a few traditional news organizations like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press continue to do a solid job of covering national and international news, although even they aren’t as comprehensive as they were 20 years ago. But the decline has taken a big toll on both the quantity and quality of investigative reporting. All reporting is expensive, and great investigative reporting, which can tie up a news organization’s best reporters for months—or even a year—is much more so. So far, no one outside of the AP and the fast-disappearing newspapers has demonstrated the willingness or the resources to pay for much of it.

And that’s not all. As local and state-wide newspapers shrivel and die, who is reporting the news from our town halls, police stations and state houses? When I started my career at The Providence Journal in 1968, that then-great metropolitan newspaper had local news bureaus scattered all over the state to cover the political, police, business, and community news in every one of its 39 cities and towns. Today, those local bureaus are long gone, and the only community the paper covers regularly now is Providence. Who is covering the school committee in Warren or the zoning board in Coventry now? Nobody.

For my fictional investigative reporter, Liam Mulligan, being stuck in a dead-end job at the dying Providence Dispatch, offered a wealth of dramatic possibilities. Every day, he had to fight with his editors to carve out time from the daily routine of getting a newspaper out in order to pursue the investigative stories that he lived for. And in each of the first four novels, as layoffs continued to shrink the size of the fictional Dispatch, he felt compelled to do more and more investigative work on his own time.

For the most part, journalists are portrayed as vultures in the popular culture. Why? Because too many writers—especially those who write for the big and small screens—are quick to grab hold of the nearest cliché. The truth is that the vast majority of journalists are hard-working, low-paid professionals dedicated to the difficult task of reporting the truth in a world full of powerful people who lie like you and I breathe.

So it was my hope that as my readers watched the skill and dedication with which Mulligan worked, they would gain a greater appreciation of what is being lost as newspapers fade into history. I strove to make the first four novels in this series both compelling crime stories and a lyrical epitaph for the business that Mulligan and I love.

But as I was completing A Scourge of Vipers, the fourth novel in the series, it became evident that Mulligan’s newspaper career was coming to an end. The Dispatch had been sold off to a predatory conglomerate that had no interest in investigative stories and saw news as nothing more than something to fill the spaces between the ads. And Mulligan’s squabbles with his editors were making life untenable for both of them.

By the time that novel ended, Mulligan had been fired in spectacular fashion, accused of a journalism ethics violation that he had not committed.

So the beginning of The Dread Line, the new novel in the series, finds Mulligan (like so many newspaper journalists who have been fired or laid off in recent years) piecing together a new life for himself. In Mulligan’s case, it’s a life that straddles both sides of the law. He’s getting a little part-time work from his friend McCracken’s private detective agency. He’s picking up beer and cigar money by freelancing for a local news website. And he’s earning some illegal cash looking after his semi-retired mobster friend’s bookmaking business.

And, as usual, he still manages to find trouble. He’s feuding with a feral cat that keeps dropping its kills on his porch. He’s obsessed with a baffling jewelry heist. And he’s enraged that someone in town is torturing animals. All this keeps distracting him from a big case that needs his full attention. The New England Patriots, still shaken by a series of murder charges against one of their star players (true story), hire McCracken and Mulligan (not a true story) to check the background of a college star they are considering drafting. By all accounts, the player is a choir boy, so at first the job seems routine. But as soon as they start asking questions, they get payback. The player, it seems, has something to hide—and someone is willing to kill to make sure it stays secret.

It is worth noting, however, that Mulligan doesn’t think the death of newspapers was inevitable. “Newspapers see themselves as victims of the digital age. They are so full of shit,” he said in an earlier book in the series. “The internet isn’t killing newspapers; they are committing suicide.”

“When the internet first got rolling, newspapers were the experts on reporting the news and selling classified advertising,” he continued. “They were ideally positioned to dominate the new medium. Instead, they sat around with their thumbs up their asses while upstarts like Google, the Drudge Report, and ESPN.com lured away their audience and newcomers like Craigslist, eBay, and AutoTrader.com stole their advertising business. By the time newspapers finally figured out what was going on and tried to make a go of it online, it was too late. This all happened because newspapers didn’t understand what business they were in,” Mulligan said. “They thought they were in the newspaper business, but they were really in the news and advertising business. It’s a classic mistake—the same one the railroads made in the 1950s when the interstate highway system was being built. If Penn Central had understood it was in the freight business instead of the railroad business, it would be the biggest trucking company in the country today.”

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I see things the same way

This essay first appeared on The Cockeyed Pessimist, the fine blog run by Marty Shepard of Permanent Press, a fine small press that publishes excellent crime novels. You can read this and other blog entries here.

The Dread Line by Bruce DeSilva is the fifth hardboiled crime novel featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter and part-time private eye in Rhode Island. To order it from a choice of independent or chain online bookstores, please click here. 

dread line

 

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My Interview on PowerTalk Radio

dread lineJim Parisi interviews me about writing and The Dread Line, the latest  in my Edgar Award-winning series of crime novels, on PowerTalk Radio. You can hear it all by clicking here.

The Dread Line by Bruce DeSilva is the fifth hardboiled crime novel featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter and part-time private eye in Rhode Island. To order it from a choice of independent or chain online bookstores, please click here. 

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