Who’s Reading “A Scourge of Vipers?” Bob Kulik of The Happenings!

Bob Kulik

Bob Kulik

If you’re part of my generation, you remember “The Happenings,” a singing group from Patterson, New Jersey, that burst on the scene in 1966 with “See You In September.” Today, they’re still touring with several of the original members.

I caught up with band member Bob Kulik today at a party celebrating the 10th-year anniversary of my favorite breakfast place, The Colonial Coffee Shoppe, in Howell, NJ.  Bob sang for three hours straight and sounded damned good.

My crime novels featuring Liam Mulligan have won the Edgar Award and the Macavity Award and been listed as a finalist for the Shamus, Barry, and Anthony awards. The new novel, A Scourge of Vipers, has received rave reviews in The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and a host of other publications. You can order any of the books in the series from independent or chain online bookstores by following this link.

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Four Thriller Writers Who Also Review Books

Jon Land

Jon Land

Jeff Ayers

Jeff Ayers

Myles Knapp

Myles Knapp

Me at the Mysterious Bookshop

Me at the Mysterious Bookshop

Jon Land, Jeff Ayers, Myles Knapp, and I have two big things in common. We are all authors of thriller or crime novels and we all review books for major publications.

In anticipation of the upcoming Thrillerfest conference in New York City, Lindsey Lochner interviewed three of us, asking about trends, book reviewing, and related subjects from our unusual perspective.

You can read text of the interview here.

 

 

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The Great Howard Frank Mosher Reviews “A Scourge of Vipers”

Mosher_Howard_FrankHoward Frank Mosher has long been one of my favorite writers. His novels, including The Great Northern Express, Walking to Gatlinburg, On Kingdom Mountain, and my favorite, Waiting for Teddy Williams, make him the closest thing to Mark Twain we have these days. So I was thrilled that he took the time to write a long review of my latest hardboiled crime novel for Goodreads.com–and even more thrilled by what he had to say. Here it is:

Liam Mulligan, the eponymously-named investigative reporter and main character of Bruce DeSilva’s terrific new novel A Scourge of Vipers is the last of a breed. Anarchic, hilarious, fearless, altruistic, smart-mouthed and above all bedrock decent, the hero of DeSilva’s fourth Rhode Island mystery is at it again.“Trouble is my business,” he quips to a friend, but on the bottom line, he isn’t kidding. Both professionally and temperamentally, Mulligan goes looking for it.

This time around, Mulligan’s stepped into a nest of killer-bees, including some very bad customers on both sides of the law. The issue? Mulligan’s close friend from childhood, the former nun, Fiona McNerney, now Rhode Island’s governor, proposes to legalize sports betting in order to raise revenue for the Ocean State. The Mob, of course, opposes the governor’s bill. They want to maintain their monopoly on sports gambling in the states where it’s illegal. The NCAA and pro sports franchises, too, are against legalization, though not for the reason one might suppose. Nearby casinos, on the other hand, like the idea. They hope to clean up by getting a piece of the action.

The one objective these factions all have in common is to keep Liam Mulligan’s newspaperman’s nose out of their business. The Providence police, some of them anyway, detest Mulligan even more. Even Mulligan’s corporate, yes-man boss has little use for him. The only reason he keeps him around is to rewrite press releases.

Soon enough, as the gambling war heats up, Mulligan finds himself a suspect in a related missing person case, not to mention a target of a hitman whose fecklessness makes him all the more dangerous. At the same time, Liam, a former college hoopster, is trying out for Providence’s Class D pro basketball team. Oh, and he’s taken in a homeless bouncer who “drinks a sixpack a day and farts a lot.” And he wants desperately to win back his former girlfriend, Yolanda, a beautiful and brilliant African American attorney and a great character in her own right.

In fact, Mulligan’s relationship with Yolanda lies at the heart of A Scourge of Vipers. “Having things in common is important,” Mulligan tells her. “[But] the differences are what make life interesting. When I’m with you, I see the world through fresh eyes. I can’t tell you how much I treasure that. I could learn something new from you every day of my life.’”

4ca6f-a2bscourge2bof2bvipersI, for my part, learned something new from every page of Bruce DeSilva’s new book. DeSilva, a long-time newspaperman himself, knows everything there is to know about the newspaper business, small-city politics, basketball and, not incidentally, the very good heart of Liam Mulligan.

But what about the vipers in the novel’s title? I’ll say this much. Yes, you’ll meet a real reptile in this terrific story, a harmless and rather endearing little garter snake Mulligan makes a pet of. For the true “vipers,” though, you’ll have to follow DeSilva’s reporter through the river-front tenements and backroom gambling dens and corrupt police precincts of “Rogue Island.” That’s a trip you’ll enjoy. There’s even a hint or two of what devilment Mulligan may be up to in the next installment.

I, for one, can’t wait.

My crime novels featuring Liam Mulligan have won the Edgar Award and the Macavity Award and been listed as a finalist for the Shamus, Barry, and Anthony awards. The new novel, A Scourge of Vipers, has received rave reviews in The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and a host of other publications. You can order any of the books in the series from independent or chain online bookstores by following this link.

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The Great Bob Dylan Is A Fan of My Mulligan Novels!

dylanWho’s reading A Scourge of Vipers, my new Mulligan crime novel? BOB DYLAN.

Here’s how I know.

I was signing books at Once Upon a Crime, the wonderful mystery book store in Minneapolis, when the last person in line introduced himself as a lifelong friend of Bob’s.

“He’s a big fan of your books,” the guy said. “He’s read all the others, and he asked me to get you to sign a copy of the new one for him.”

“You’ve gotta be punking me,” I said.

The man assured me that he wasn’t. I turned and looked at the bookstore owner.

“It’s true,” she said. “Bob likes crime fiction, and he has his friend come into the shop from time to time to pick up signed copies of books by his favorite authors.”

I am one of his favorite authors? Still not quite believing, I asked if I should just sign the book or write a dedication.

Bob, the man said, would like you to dedicate it to him.

To Bob Dylan or to Robert Zimmerman? I asked, knowing the name the great man was born with.

“He prefers ‘Bob Dylan,’” his friend said.

Bob-Dylan 2I don’t think I need to tell you what Bob Dylan has meant to me, a writer who came of age in the 1960s. I was so flummoxed that I don’t even remember what I wrote in the book. I’m guessing it was either “Mulligan is still Tangled Up in Blue,” or “Mulligan’s got The Memphis Blues Again.” Those are references to Dylan songs, of course, and as readers of the Mulligan novels know, my series character is a big fan of the blues.

That the genius who wrote Blood on the Tracks likes MY books is jaw-dropping. My wife Patricia and I last saw him in concert last year at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, and he put on a brilliant show. He’s on the road again this summer, and wherever he is, I hope he’s getting some pleasure out of A Scourge of Vipers.

My crime novels featuring Liam Mulligan have won the Edgar Award and the Macavity Award and been listed as a finalist for the Shamus, Barry, and Anthony awards. The new novel, A Scourge of Vipers, has received rave reviews in The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and a host of other publications. You can order any of the books in the series from independent or chain online bookstores by following this link.

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“A Scourge of Vipers” Now Available In Downloadable Audio Edition

4ca6f-a2bscourge2bof2bvipersThe downloadable audio-book edition of A Scourge of Vipers, the fourth hardboiled crime novel in my Edgar Award-winning series, officially went on sale today. Here’s a link where you can listen to a sample and/or place an order.

The book is narrated by the remarkable Jeff Woodman, who was a finalist for the Audie Award, the Oscar of the audio book industry, for his narrations of both my first novel, Rogue Island, and the third, Providence Rag.

My crime novels featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter at a dying newspaper, are set in Providence, Rhode Island; and Jeff has got the regional accent down pat. The series has won the Edgar Award and the Macavity Award and been listed as a finalist for the Shamus, Barry, and Anthony awards. The new novel, A Scourge of Vipers, has received rave reviews in The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and a host of other publications. You can order any of the books in the series from independent or chain online bookstores by following this link.

 

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Look Who’s Reading “A Scourge of Vipers.” It’s Legendary Crime Novelist Lawrence Block!

L.BlockLawrence Block is one of the best, and one of the most prolific, crime novelists ever.  I caught up with him last week at BEA (Book Expo America) in New York City, where we both appeared at the Mystery Writers of America booth to sign copies of our latest books.  You can learn more about Larry and his work here.

A Scourge of Vipers was recently released in hardcover, e-book and audio editions. For links to independent and chain online booksellers, click here.

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The Hypocrisy Surrounding Sports Gambling

This article originally appeared as a guest blog on the Curling Up by the Fire website.

University of Massachusetts at Amherst

University of Massachusetts at Amherst

I was first introduced to illegal sports gambling by a scruffy guy who made the rounds of the University of Massachusetts dormitories every Thursday and Friday during the football season, handing out crudely-printed cards with the point-spreads for the week’s NFL games.

I’d circle my picks and return my card to him each Saturday, along with one dollar to cover each game I was betting on. You had to bet on at least three games, but if you wished, you could bet on them all. To collect, all of your picks had to be winners. The more games you picked, the greater the risk and the greater the potential reward.

I was cautious, usually betting on just three games and never more than six, but I seldom won anything. By the end of each season, my losses always totaled several times more than I’d won.

This was a long time ago, back when the New England Patriots were still the Boston Patriots—so long ago that the first Super Bowl, in which the Green Bay Packers trounced the Kansas City Chiefs, wasn’t held until my junior year of college. Back then, I didn’t give much thought to where the money I lost was going.

Raymond L.S. Patriarca

Raymond L.S. Patriarca

I know now that the scruffy dude was a runner who turned the betting cards and cash over to a Western Massachusetts bookie every week. From there, some of the money was passed on to the powerful Angiulo crime family in Boston; and quite likely, a share was paid in tribute to Raymond L.S. Patriarca, the ruthless New England crime boss who ran his regional empire from a little vending machine company office on Atwells Avenue in Providence, R.I.

A few years later, when I found myself writing about Patriarca for The Providence Journal, I didn’t feel all that good about the tiny contribution I’d made to his wealth and power. From then on, I limited my sports gambling to small, friendly wagers with friends.

But I always paid close attention to illegal sports gambling and the game-fixing and point-shaving scandals it occasionally generated.

4ca6f-a2bscourge2bof2bvipersSo when I decided to make this the subject of A Scourge of Vipers, the fourth book in my Edgar Award-winning series of crime novels, I thought I knew a lot about the subject.

A little research told me there was a lot I hadn’t known.

I’d understood that a lot of Americans gamble on sporting events, but I’d had no idea how many. According to surveys, I discovered, about eighty-five percent of us bet on sports at least occasionally, much of it on the annual March Madness basketball tournament.

I’d known that sports gambling was big business, but I’d had no idea how big. Experts estimate that Americans bet three hundred and eight billion dollars a year on sporting events. That’s six times greater than the annual budget of the sprawling U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In other words, most of us are involved in it, and the stakes are astronomically high.

I got the idea for the new novel a few years ago when Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, already contemplating a run for the Republican nomination for president of the United States, proposed legalizing sports betting in his state so he could tax the profits. I saw immediately that his plan would face enormous obstacles.

For another thing, legalization had powerful enemies, and those enemies had deep pockets.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

The NCAA, the governing body of inter-collegiate sports, was dead-set against it, threatening to ban New Jersey arenas from its annual basketball tournament unless the governor backed down. The four major professional sports leagues were adamantly opposed, too (although the NBA commissioner recently softened his position), claiming legalization would damage the integrity of their games.

Meanwhile, Las Vegas casinos were eager to hold on to their near-monopoly on legal sports gambling, and organized crime organizations were aghast at the prospect of seeing their bookmaking business wiped out.

But legalization also had powerful friends. Some public-employee unions saw it as a way to save their endangered pension plans. Some casino owners outside of Nevada salivated at the chance to dive into the lucrative sports-betting business.

Hard-pressed governors of other states, desperate for a way to balance their budgets without raising taxes, began following the unfolding New Jersey drama with great interest.

So I asked myself, “What if?”—the question that has launched every novel that I’ve written. What if Fiona McNerney, the fictional governor of Rhode Island whom I’d introduced in an earlier novel, proposed legalizing sports gambling in her state? McNerney, a former religious sister nicknamed Attila the Nun because of her take-no-prisoners style of politics, isn’t much like Christie, but they do have one thing in common. Both are combative personalities who aren’t given to backing down from a fight.

Rhode Island state capitol building

Rhode Island state capitol building

The novel’s action explodes when powerful forces with a lot to gain—or lose—if sports gambling became legal, flood Rhode Island with money to buy the votes of politicians. Much of the money is delivered in the form of legal campaign contributions, but some of the special interests aren’t above slipping cash-stuffed envelopes into politicians’ pockets. Just picture all of that money pouring into a tiny, economically-depressed state where the average campaign for the state legislature costs just ten thousand dollars.

Naturally, all hell breaks loose. Before long, a powerful state legislator turns up dead, a mobbed-up bag man gets shot down, and his cash-filled briefcase goes missing.
Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter for a dying Providence, R.I., newspaper (and the protagonist of my three earlier novels) wants to dig into the story, but the bottom-feeding conglomerate that recently bought the once proud daily has no interest in serious public-interest reporting. So Mulligan, who’s never been inclined to follow orders, goes rogue, investigating on his own.

Soon, he finds himself the target of shadowy forces that seek to derail him by threatening his reputation, his career, and even his life.

The result is at once a suspenseful murder mystery and a serious examination of one of the major issues of our times—the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and the corrupting influence of big money on politics.

The story also allowed me to explore the blatant hypocrisy that surrounds illegal sports gambling.

Should it be illegal when almost everyone takes part in it? Why does nearly every state have its own vice laws against it while, at the same time, their official lotteries rake in billions of dollars from chump scratch tickets and numbers games?

Why do the NCAA and the major sports leagues repeatedly claim that legalization will increase the temptation for criminals to fix games? Isn’t the three-hundred-and-eight billion dollars Americans gamble on sports every year, most of it bet illegally, incentive enough? Actually, legalization would probably reduce the risk, because the amount wagered would be public knowledge. An Arizona point-shaving scandal was exposed some years back only because a red flag went up when an obscene amount of money was bet legally in Las Vegas.

Gambling is one of the main reasons a lot of people follow sports. The NCAA and the professional sports leagues know this, and they profit handsomely from the filled arenas and the massive TV contracts all that interest generates. Isn’t that why they don’t protest when sports writers cite point spreads?

lotteryLike any vice, gambling is harmful to individuals who engage in it to excess, but is sports gambling any more immoral than state lotteries and Indian casinos? And illegal or not, most Americans bet on sports anyway. Keeping it illegal does little more than help mobbed-up bookies stay in business.

As I was finishing my novel, Governor Christie pressed forward with his plan, pushing his legalization bill through the state legislature in defiance of the federal law. He announced that the sports betting would begin first at the Monmouth Park racetrack and that it would soon spread to the Atlantic City casinos.

So, of course, the major professional sports leagues sued to stop him.

Last fall, a federal judge blocked Christie’s plan. Now the issue is headed to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia—and quite likely, eventually to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A Scourge of Vipers, the fourth in my Edgar Award-winning series featuring Liam Mulligan, has received rave reviews from The New York Times, Suspense Magazine, and Publishers Weekly, to name just a few. It’s available in hardcover, e-book, and audio editions. To order it, you can find links to chain and independent online booksellers here.

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My “Authors On the Air” Interview

My novels on sale at the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ

My novels on sale at the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ

Pam Stack interviewed me yesterday for the Authors on the Air radio show, asking about my hard-boiled Mulligan crime novels in general and the latest one, A Scourge of Vipers, in particular.

We talked about the how I developed the main character, the inspiration behind some of the plots, the book reviewing I do for the Associated Press, the reviews of my own novels, my writing process, the state of American journalism, and several other topics.

The interview can be heard in its entirety here.

A Scourge of Vipers, the fourth in my Edgar Award-winning series featuring Liam Mulligan, has received rave reviews from The New York Times, Suspense Magazine, and Publishers Weekly, to name just a few. It’s available in hardcover, e-book, and audio editions. To order it, you can find links to chain and independent online booksellers here.

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Why I Use Popular Music to Teach Writing

The following originally appeared on the Hardboiled Wonderland website.

The languages of writing and music have many terms in common: tone, mood, pacing, style, movement, rhythm, voice . . .  It is only natural, then, that music is central in my series of hard-boiled crime novels featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter at a dying newspaper in Providence, Rhode Island. Blues artists including Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, and Son Seals provide the soundtrack of his life.

So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that when I teach prose writing in college and professional workshops, music is one of my most important tools.

Take voice, for example. Readers think they read with their eyes, but they really read with their ears. They hear the writer speaking to them from the page. The appeal of that voice has everything to do with whether they will finish a book or ever want to read anything else by that writer.

The late Robert B. Parker, one of the best-selling crime novelists of all time, once told me that readers enjoyed his books for the same reason they love certain songs. They like the way they sound. The same story can sound very different, depending on who is telling it. I like to make this point to writers by having them listen to the same song performed by different artists.

Consider Hound Dog, for example. Elvis Presley’s recording, the version people are most familiar with, tells the story of a guy who’s annoying him by sniffing around his girlfriend; but in his hands the tune is so goofy that it’s almost a novelty song. Big Mama Thornton’s earlier version, however, is deadline serious. She angry at some jerk who won’t leave her alone. Pots and pans-throwing angry. Now give a listen to what Koko Taylor does with it. She’s so furious that she’s ready to cut somebody.

Or consider Respect, a song most people associate with Aretha Franklin. In her version, she demands respect from her husband when he comes home from work, but he’s so thick-headed that she has to spell it for him: R-E-S-P-E-C-T. To a guy, the chorus provided by a platoon of background singers sounds like all the women in the world yelling at him.

But the song was written, and originally recorded, by Otis Redding. In his version, the word is not spelled out. Instead, it tells the story of a black man who doesn’t get much respect when he’s out there in the world trying to make a living. So when he comes home, by God he better get respect from his woman.

When Redding first heard Aretha’s version, he is said to have muttered, “The little girl cut me.”

This is what we want from musicians—individual interpretations only each of them can give us. It’s also what we want from writers.

I also use songs to illustrate how writers can develop characters and build story arcs—something the best song writers manage to achieve with very few words.

Not every song tells a story, of course. “Nah Nah Nah Nah, Nah Nah Nah Nah, Hey Hey, Goodbye”—not a story. But a lot of songs have perfect story arcs.

The one I use most often when I teach characterization and storytelling is Love at the Five & Dime. It was written by Nanci Griffith, although Kathy Mattea’s version probably sold more copies.

It begins when a guitar-player named Eddie meets a sixteen-year-old girl named Rita at the Five & Dime. When we are told that she “makes the Woolworth counter shine,” we know that means she does more than just polish it with a rag. And Eddie? He’s “a sweet romancer and a darned good dancer.”
That’s characterization.

But what’s the story? Rita’s parents don’t approve of Eddie, setting up an immediate conflict. So what do these two kids do? They run off and get married.

We’re rooting for them now, but in the second verse, there’s more trouble. 
They lose a baby, a tragedy that can put immense pressure on any marriage. Then, in the third verse, things get still worse. When one of the guys in Eddie’s band flirts with Rita, Eddie gets jealous and “runs off with the baseman’s wife.

But before long, he comes crawling back to Rita.

In the final verse, they’ve both grown old. Eddie’s arthritis “took his hands,” so he can’t play his steel guitar anymore. He sells insurance now. And Rita? She spends her days keeping house and reading dime-store novels.

But through it all, Eddie and Rita have remained together; and every evening, they dance, because “love’s for sale tonight at this Five & Dime.

That’s a perfect story arc about two characters the song writer made us care about, all of it told in just four lyrical verses.

This song always leaves me wanting more—just as any good song should.

You could tell the same story in a 400-page dime-store novel about Eddie and Rita. Who knows? Perhaps one day, some novelists will.

Bruce DeSilva’s crime fiction has won the Edgar and Macavity Awards; has been listed as a finalist for the Shamus, Anthony, and Barry Awards; and has been published in ten foreign languages. His short stories have appeared in Akashic Press’s award-winning noir anthologies. He has reviewed books for The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Publishers Weekly, and The Associated Press. Previously, he was a journalist for forty years, most recently as writing coach world-wide for the AP, editing stories that won every major journalism award including the Pulitzer. His fourth novel, A Scourge of Vipers, has just been published by Forge in hardcover and e-book editions.
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The Providence Journal Raves Raves About “Providence Noir”

provHere’s what The Providence Journal says about Providence Noir, the latest in a series of award-winning anthologies from Akashic Press.  Each book in the series is filled with dark stories about different cities around the world.

“Providence, of course, has a history of crime, the mob, corruption and other goodies. In this collection of 15 stories, edited by Ann Hood for the Akashic Noir Series — “Brooklyn Noir,” “Mexico City Noir,” “Rome Noir,” etc. — we are given a darkly hued tour of the city in all its nooks and crannies by such excellent writers as Hood herself, John Searles, Bruce DeSilva, Peter Farrelly, Elizabeth Strout, Hester Kaplan and others, each with their own style, tone and sly approach that will keep you reading, waiting for the sudden murder, the end of troubled relationships, the discovery of bones.”

You can read the full text of the review here

The book will be officially published in both hardcover and paperback editions on June 2, but it can be ordered in advance from amazon.com and other online booksellers. Better yet, order one from your local independent bookstore.

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