How I Would Cast The Film Version Of “A Scourge Of Vipers”

4ca6f-a2bscourge2bof2bvipersMarshal Zeringue, who runs The Campaign for the American Reader website asked me how I would cast the film version of A Scourge of Vipers, the latest in my Edgar Award-winning series of hardboiled crime novels. This was my reply:

Liam Mulligan is a 44-year-old journalist who has difficulty with authority and is prone to ill-timed wisecracks. He has a strong but shifting sense of justice, willing to break rules, and even the law, to bring bad guys to justice in Providence, R.I., a city with a long history of organized crime and political corruption. The music of blues musicians such as Buddy Guy and Koko Taylor form the soundtrack of his life. Howard Frank Mosher, author of Waiting for Teddy Williams and one of my favorite writers, sent me an email proclaiming that Mulligan is “the most human, unpredictable, and anti-authoritarian fictional character I’ve met since Ranger Gus McCrae of Lonesome Dove.” I’d like to think he’s right.

In A Scourge of Vipers, the governor proposes legalizing sports betting as a way to ease the state’s budget crisis, and organizations who have a lot to lose if it passes flood the state with millions of dollars to buy the votes of politicians. Soon, a powerful state senator turns up dead, a mobbed-up bagman gets shot down, and his suitcase full of cash goes missing. As Mulligan digs into the story, shadowy forces try to derail his investigation by destroying his reputation, his career, and even his life.

The novel has a colorful cast of characters, many of whom appeared in the three previous novels in the series.

I’d love to see this book turned into a movie, of course, but I think the Mulligan novels may be better suited to a quality television crime drama. Most crime movies are full of gunfights, car chases and explosions but there’s not much of that in my novels. They are more character driven, much like TV shows such as The Sopranos, Justified, and True Detective.

Here’s my dream cast:

LearyDenis Leary (Rescue Me) as Mulligan. He’s a bit old for the part but can play younger, and he embodies the smart mouth and bad attitude toward authority that is Mulligan.
BegheJason Beghe (Chicago PD) as Jay Wargart, one of the homicide twins, a pair of Providence, R.I., detectives who have a grudge against Mulligan.

kyraKyra Sedgwick (The Closer) as Sandra Freitas, Wargart’s partner. They both know how to give somebody a hard time.

kevin-bacon-nico-tortorella-the-following-premiere-02Kevin Bacon (The Following) as RI State Police Captain Stephen Parisi. He does the steely-eyed thing really well.

sofiaSofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) as Fiona McNerney, aka Attila the Nun, a former religious sister serving as Rhode Island’s take-no-prisoners governor.
John-Francis-Daley-image-3John Francis Daley (Bones) as Mulligan’s young newspaper sidekick, Edward Anthony Mason III, AKA Thanks-Dad. Like Thanks-Dad, he conveys a misleading naivety that makes him easy to underestimate.
????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Frankie Valli (The Sopranos) as Domenic “Whoosh” Zerilli, Mulligan’s bookie and close friend. He provides the same sly menace I associate with Whoosh.
6th Annual Food Bank For New York -Steve Schirripa (The Sopranos) as Joseph DeLucca, the often unemployed, smarter-than-he-looks friend of Mulligan’s. He’s got the right look and the right working-class manner of speaking.
JadaJada Pinkett Smith (Gotham) as Yolanda Mosley-Jones, Mulligan’s on again, off again love interest. She embodies Yolanda’s elegance and intelligence.
DeSilva 1Bruce DeSilva as Ed Lomax, managing editor of The Providence Dispatch and Mulligan’s former boss. Lomax is a man of few words, so I should be able to remember my lines.

You can check out the other cool stuff on The Campaign for the American Reader website here. 

A Scourge of Vipers has received rave reviews from The New York Times, The Associated Press, 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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“The New York Times” and “Suspense Magazine” Both Rave About “A Scourge of Vipers”

4ca6f-a2bscourge2bof2bvipersThe New York Times book review section says this about A Scourge of Vipers, the latest book in my Edgar Award-winning series of hard-boiled crime novels:  The protagonist, Liam Mulligan, is barely holding onto his job at a dying Providence, RI., newspaper, “but until someone actually pulls the plug on this once-scrappy daily, Bruce DeSilva gives his smart and funny investigative sleuth something to live and fight for.”

And Suspense Magazine says: “The character of Liam (Mulligan) is going into his fourth book in this series, but this is most definitely a stand-alone novel that can be read by suspense lovers who may have somehow missed the first brilliant books by this author. A quick and compelling story of murder, ethics, and very tough decisions for local law and government to make, this is a powerful crime story with fantastic plotting. . . . Every word is more than entertaining.”

The new novel previously received rave reviews from The Associated Press and The Providence Journal, and coveted starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. It’s available in hardcover, e-book, and audio editions. To order it, you can find a list of chain and independent online booksellers here.

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Author Tim Hallinan Interviews Me About The Writing Process and My Crime Novel, “A Scourge of Vipers”

My thanks to Tim Hallinan, one of my favorite crime writers, for asking such good questions in this interview with me published today in the literary magazine, Literary Orphans.

1. Unlike many of us who turn to writing when the demon seizes us, or when we’ve failed at everything else, you’ve been writing your entire adult life. In what ways did your experience as a newspaper reporter and editor prepare you for fiction?

Me on my last day at The Associated Press

Me on my last day at The Associated Press

Daily journalism is the antithesis of nearly everything a fiction writer tries to do. Journalists write “reports” or “articles” that are typically organized into hideous, archaic forms such as the inverted pyramid. They rarely write anything with a story arc and seem opposed to suspense on general principle. Journalism serves up name, age, and job title as a substitute for characterization. Street addresses often pass for setting. And entire newspapers are written in the voice of the guy who drones on for an hour at the Cub Scout banquet while everyone fidgets and prays that he will stop. Journalists persist in calling their creations “stories,” but the irony is lost on many of them. I spent forty years rebelling against the traditions of the profession, striving to instill the qualities of so-called “literary nonfiction” into the daily news stories, explanatory journalism, and investigative pieces I wrote and edited. I had my share of successes, but the daily battle was exhausting. Journalism did provide me with a wealth of experiences to draw on—characters, places, and anecdotes that throb with story possibilities. But anyone who has lived a life and remained relatively conscious should be able to say the same. The most important lesson I took with me as I moved from journalism to fiction is that writing is a job, something you do every day whether you are in the mood or not. You do not wait for inspiration. You do not search for your muse. You are not allowed to have writer’s block. You plant your butt in the chair and write.

2. What are the rewards of doing journalism, and what are the rewards of writing fiction? I mean personal rewards, not prizes or money.

4ca6f-a2bscourge2bof2bvipersBecause the public’s impression of journalists is formed largely by watching the likes of Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper, and Megyn Kelly, many people think it’s an exciting, even somewhat glamorous, profession. For the vast majority of journalists, it is anything but. Most news reporters spend their professional lives jotting notes at soul-sucking public meetings, shouting questions at a press conferences, interviewing the weirdo who amassed the country’s third-largest ball of string, being lied to by public officials, having doors slammed in their faces, and standing in the rain watching something burn. This is not what most of them signed up for. They enter the profession consumed by the desire to make a difference—to expose corruption, speak truth to power, and tell the public how our world really works. Few get the chance. I was one of the lucky ones. I spent the first twenty-six years of my journalism career writing and editing investigative and in-depth explanatory pieces for The Providence Journal and The Hartford Courant back when they were among the finest small-city dailies in America. I spent another fourteen years at the Associated Press editing a group of elite national writers and foreign correspondents who excelled at doing the same thing. The last story I edited there exposed the plight of children, some as young as five years old, laboring in the gold mines of West Africa. The story traced the gold as it passed through a series of middlemen into the coffers of Swiss banks and then on to some of the world’s leading producers of luxury goods. I took great satisfaction in seeing such stories in print, but the erosion of the news business’s economics have sharply reduced the opportunities to do such work. I didn’t leave journalism; it left me. Crime novels give me another way to reach mass audiences with stories that matter. My novels work as suspenseful entertainments, but each also addresses a subject of social concern. For example, my latest novel, A Scourge of Vipers, is both a hard-boiled crime story and an examination of the corrupting influence of big money on politics and the hypocrisy surrounding illegal sports gambling.

3. Taken together, your novels present an extended and melancholy elegy for the death of the great American newspaper. Is this a story you intended to tell from the beginning? What have we lost, and why does it matter so much? What, if anything, has arisen to take the newspapers’ place?

Although I’m critical of the way newspapers are written, there is no question that they have been the backbone of the American democracy since the founding of the republic. For more than two centuries, newspapers provided essential information about public affairs from the smallest prairie towns to the corridors of power in Washington, D.C. Now, newspapers are circling the drain. I cannot overstate what a catastrophe this is for all of us. There is nothing on the horizon to replace them as honest brokers of information. The old broadcast TV networks, undercut by competition from cable, have cut way back on their reporting staffs—and they were never all that good to begin with. Cable TV news has deteriorated into a platform for partisan propaganda, shouting talking heads, and celebrity trivia. And the few online news sites that try to do an honest job lack the resources to do much original reporting, drawing much of their news from shriveling newspapers. A handful of large papers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, continue to do a solid job of covering national and international affairs, although they aren’t nearly as comprehensive as they were two decades ago. But as newspapers continue to decline, who will cover our town halls and state legislatures? When I worked at The Providence Journal in the 1970s and 1980s, that paper reported on every one of the state’s 39 cities and towns. Today, most of them go entirely uncovered. Good reporting is expensive. Investigative reporting is even more expensive. And so far, no one outside of the declining newspaper industry has demonstrated either the

Lee Child, author of the best-selling Jack Reacher novels

Lee Child, author of the best-selling Jack Reacher novels

willingness or the resources to pay for it. In my first novel, Rogue Island, my protagonist, Liam Mulligan, investigates a series of arsons that are destroying the working-class Providence, R.I. neighborhood where he grew up. I made him an investigative reporter, instead of a private eye or a cop, because I wanted to explore the sorry state of American journalism. In each of the succeeding novels, the dying newspaper Mulligan works for has continued to decline, making it increasingly difficult for him to do the serious reporting he lives for. It is my hope that as readers see the skill and dedication with which Mulligan works, they will gain a greater appreciation for what is being lost as the business Mulligan and I love fades into history.

4. Given the sheer number of American novelists who came out of a newspaper background, what effect do you think the decline of print journalism will have on American fiction?

Print journalism has long been a breeding ground for crime novelists. Michael Connelly, who made his bones at The Lost Angeles Times, and Laura Lippman, who once wrote for The Baltimore Sun, spring immediately to mind. Today, a startling number of newspaper reporters and editors are looking to crime fiction as their golden parachute. Nearly every week, I hear from one or two of them looking for advice on how to make the transition. I wish all of them well, but sadly, some of them don’t write well enough to make a go of it.

5. How much information about a book do you need to begin to write, and how much comes to you on the fly? How would you describe your novel-writing creative process? Can you give us some examples from one of your books?

U.S. Senator Cory Booker reading "Cliff Walk."

U.S. Senator Cory Booker reading “Cliff Walk.”

I start only with a general idea of what a book will be about. For example, I began Cliff Walk, the second book in the series, with the notion of juxtaposing the two extremes of Rhode Island society—the Newport mansions and the state’s legal (until recently) prostitution business. I just threw those two worlds together and set my characters in motion to see what would happen. Writing this way allows the characters to take over the story, as if they have wills of their own. In my first book, Rogue Island, my protagonist’s ex-wife started out as a minor irritant and turned into a vengeful bitch. A big dangerous hit man shrank to five-foot five and developed a bad case of psoriasis. A fire chief who began as a minor character decided to become a major one. And then he decided he was a she. I enjoy discovering the story as I write; and I figure that if I don’t know what’s going to happen next, my readers probably won’t either. I never outline, partly because my mind doesn’t work that way but also because discovering what is going to happen next is what sits me down at my desk every day. If I knew in advance how the story would turn out, my need to write it would evaporate.

6. Given the components of a novel – story, characters, voice, setting, tone, etc. – which are most important in your novels? Which come most easily to you, and which are more difficult to get your arms around? Which is the most fun?

Tim Hallinan reading "Providence Rg"

Tim Hallinan reading “Providence Rg”

It’s become fashionable to insist that characters matter most, but I think each element is equally important. The quality of the work depends on all of them working together in harmony. I can’t begin, however, until I get the voice right. For me, everything flows from that. When I started Providence Rag, the third book in the series, the first sentence I typed was this: “Larry Bird had been living in Mulligan’s kitchen for less than a week, and already he’d become a big pain in the ass.” And with that, I was off and running. The sentence—about a parrot named after one of New England’s greatest sports heroes—ended up in chapter 12, but without it, I might still be staring at a blank screen. The book I’m writing now, tentatively titled Dreadline, was launched with this sentence: “He was a serial killer, but I didn’t hold that against him.” Thanks to that start, the book is now two-thirds finished. The late great Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser and Jesse Stone novels, once told me that people read his books for the same reason they listen to certain songs—that they like the way they sound. That’s why I read every sentence I write out loud. The easiest and most enjoyable part of the writing for me is dialogue. I usually write it fast, letting it spin off in unpredictable directions, just as conversations do in life. Once I finish drafting such a passage, much of it has to be discarded. But there are always a few gems I would never have written if I’d planned it in advance.

7. At the end of your new book, A Scourge of Vipers, you credit poet Patricia Smith (to whom you are fortunate enough to be married) for editing “every line, adding musical notes to my sometimes toneless prose.” Most writers knows what it feels like to be edited structurally, sometimes well and sometimes not so well, but this is the kind of help that’s sadly unavailable to those of us who aren’t you. Can you show us how it works, maybe even citing a passage or two?

My wife is one of our greatest living poets. I speak at Mystery Writers of America. She speaks at Carnegie Hall and the Library of Congress. I win the Edgar Award. She wins two Pushcart prizes, the Rattle Poetry Prize, the National Poetry Series award, the Bobbitt Prize, the Lenore Marshall Prize, and a Guggenheim fellowship. I become a finalist for the Shamus Award. She becomes a finalist for the National Book Award. If she’d won that one, too, I might have had to kill her—or maybe myself. (In case you are

Patricia

Patricia

reading this, baby, that was a joke.) The fact that I am married to this amazing woman astonishes me daily. We’re a great team. I edit her poetry; she edits my fiction. Our writing styles are nothing alike, and that’s what makes the partnership work. Her writing is rich to the point of being sensual. Mine can be spare to the point of sensual deprivation. I help her make her work tighter and crisper. She helps me make mine more descriptive and lyrical. But her biggest contribution is helping me create credible love scenes (both on and off the page.) Writing about romance always leaves me flummoxed. What would Mulligan say to his girlfriend? How would she react? Darned if I know. But Patricia does. Once, when Mulligan needed to apologize to his girl, I decided he should buy her something. But what? Patricia’s answer: “Get her something she can wear against her skin.”

8. We’ve all seen talented writers who are lucky enough to write lengthy series slip in quality, sometimes through waning enthusiasm or even becoming dependent on repetitive tropes or story elements. You’re writing a successful series right now. How do you stay fresh, engaged, and growing?

Literature professors insist that a novel cannot succeed unless the protagonist is transformed in some meaningful way. Yet some of the most popular characters in crime fiction, such as Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, remain unchanged in book after book. I don’t write like Child. I don’t even know how. The ordeals I put Mulligan through in each novel can’t help but change him. In Cliff Walk, for example, he initially views prostitution as a victimless crime. He thinks that what men do with their money and what women do with their bodies is nobody’s business but their own. But as he investigates the public corruption that allows prostitution to flourish, he is forced to wade through the ugly underbelly of the sex trade; and what he finds there challenges everything he believes about both sexual morality and religion. The evolution of Mulligan’s character keeps each new story fresh for me. That said, I may take a break from Mulligan once I finish the novel I’m working on now. A new character named Dante, a young guy who grew up in a family of criminals and is trying to decide which side of the law to live on, is nagging me to write a book about him.

9. Name two novels you wish you’d written, and tell us what it is about them that you admire so strongly.

Daniel Woodrell

Daniel Woodrell

Only two? I guess Elmore Leonard’s entire oeuvre is out, then. So let’s see . . . As a grandfather of seven, I have to go with Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and Dr. Seuss’s Sneeches. But as a lover of crime fiction, I’ll say Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River, James Lee Burke’s In Electric Mist with Confederate Dead, Thomas H. Cook’s Red Leaves, Kate Atkinson’s When Will There Be Good News, George Pelecanos’s Night Gardener, Richard Price’s Clockers, and For the Dead by some dude named Hallinan. . . . Wait. Was that more than two already? . . . Okay, okay. I’ll play along. For a limited time only, I’ll settle on The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins and Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. Higgins’s first book set a standard for lowlife dialogue that has never been equaled. When Leonard was asked to rank the ten best crime novels of all time, he named that one ten times. With Winter’s Bone, Woodrell created one of the most unforgettable female protagonists in all of fiction, and the writing is so musical that you could break it into lines of verse and read the entire book as a lyric poem. That said, the opening paragraph of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row is my favorite passage in the English language.

Timothy Hallinan

Timothy Hallinan

Timothy Hallinan was nominated for most of the awards Bruce DeSilva won, including the Edgar and the Macavity. He is the author of two current series, the Junior Bender Mysteries, about a Los Angeles thief who moonlights (usually at gunpoint) as a private eye for crooks, and the Poke Rafferty Bangkok thrillers, about an American travel writer and his cross-cultural family trying to preserve their relationship in the instant gratification capital of the world. He divides his time between Santa Monica and Bangkok and is fortunate enough to be married to Munyin Choy.

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“My Bookish Ways” Interviews Me About My New Crime Novel, “A Scourge of Vipers”

The following interview first appeared on the My Bookish Ways website:

Will you tell us a little about A Scourge of Vipers and what we can expect from Liam Mulligan this time around?

VipersThe action begins when Rhode Island’s colorful fictional governor, a former religious sister nicknamed Attila the Nun, proposes legalizing sports gambling to ease the state’s budget crisis. Powerful organizations that have a lot to lose—or gain—if gambling is made legal flood the little state with millions of dollars to buy the votes of state legislators. When a powerful state senator turns up dead, a mobbed-up bagman gets shot down, and his briefcase full of cash goes missing, Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter for The Providence Dispatch, wants to investigate. But the bottom-feeding conglomerate that recently purchased the struggling newspaper has no interest in serious reporting. So Mulligan goes rogue, digging into the story on his own. Soon, shadowy forces try to derail his investigation by destroying his career, his reputation, and perhaps his life. The result is at once suspenseful murder mystery and a serious exploration of the hypocrisy surrounding sports betting and the corrupting influence of big money on politics. Although the book is certainly hardboiled, the tone is a tad lighter than Mulligan fans have come to expect. The first three novels were littered with innocent victims, but in A Scourge of Vipers, most of the people who get shot had it coming.

Why do you think readers will root for Liam? How has he changed or grown since the first book, Rogue Island?

John Lithgow

John Lithgow

Liam Mulligan is forty-four years old now, and he’s been an investigative reporter for in Rhode Island for his entire working life. He is a man who has trouble dealing with authority. He’s prone to ill-timed wisecracks. He has a strong but flexible sense of right and wrong, willing to break rules—or even the law—to expose corruption and bring bad guys to justice. When he encounters corruption, he’s determined to get to the root of it no matter the personal risk. As the son of a good man who raised a family on a milkman’s paycheck, he has a lot of working-class rage. And the music of blues musicians such as Buddy Guy and Koko Taylor form the soundtrack of his life. Howard Frank Mosher, author of Waiting for Teddy Williams and one of my favorite writers, sent me an email proclaiming that Mulligan is “the most human, unpredictable, and anti-authoritarian fictional character I’ve met since Ranger Gus McCrae of Lonesome Dove.” I’d like to think that he’s right. While those things about Mulligan remain the same from book to book, the ordeals I have put him through can’t help but change him. At the conclusion of Rogue Island, for example, the only way Mulligan can get justice is to become complicit in three mob murders. That shakes his self-perception of what he is capable of doing. In Cliff Walk, he initially views prostitution as a victimless crime, but as he investigates the public corruption that allows it to flourish, he is forced to wade through the ugly underbelly of the sex trade; and what he finds there challenges everything he believes about both sexual morality and religion. In A Scourge of Vipers, a bigger change is coming. Mulligan has always said that he became a reporter because he could never be any good at anything else—that if he couldn’t be a newspaperman, he’d end up squatting on the floor of the bus station, selling pencils out of a tin cup. But halfway through the new novel, he realizes that his journalism career is coming to a bad end. He’s either going to get fired or quit in frustration—unless the dying newspaper folds on him first. So in addition to investigating public corruption and murder, he has to invent a new life for himself. I think readers will find that the way he goes about this is both surprising and ingenious.

What kind of research did you do for the book? I’m guessing that your journalism background goes a long way on its own where research is concerned.

I reviewed federal and state laws governing sports gambling, researched statistics on how much Americans bet both legally and illegally on sports, looked up recent cases of game-fixing and point-shaving, and familiarized myself with the arguments for and against legalization. A couple of decades ago, this would have required spending many hours in the research room of a good library, but I was able to find everything I needed in a couple of hours. Thank goodness for Google.

Even though your background is in journalism, have you always wanted to write fiction? Will you tell us a bit about that progression?

Evan Hunter, aka Ed McBain

Evan Hunter, aka Ed McBain

For most of my journalism career, writing a novel never occurred to me. But one day in 1994, I got a note from a newspaper reader praising a “nice little story” I’d written. “It could serve as the outline for a novel,” the note said. “Have you considered this?” Normally, I would have just tossed it in the trash, but this one was signed by Evan Hunter, who wrote fine mainstream novels under his own name and the brilliant 87th Precinct police procedurals under the pen name Ed McBain. I sealed the note in plastic, taped it to my home computer, and started writing a novel. That could have been the start of something—but it wasn’t. I hadn’t gotten far before my life suddenly turned upside down. I accepted a demanding new journalism job in Manhattan. I got divorced. Then I got remarried to a woman with a two-year-old child. In this busy new life, there was no time for writing novels. Years streamed by before I finally returned to fiction. When I finally finished Rogue Island, my Edgar Award-winning first novel, I dedicated it to the memory of the author who first encouraged me.

Why crime fiction? What do you enjoy most about reading, and writing, in the genre?

Author Michael Connelly reading "Cliff Walk."

Author Michael Connelly reading “Cliff Walk.”

For me, crime fiction provides a vehicle for addressing serious social issues without resorting to long, boring articles that most people aren’t likely to read. Each of my novels succeeds as a suspenseful mystery, but each also addresses a topic of national concern. Rogue Island described the damage the decline of print journalism is doing to the American democracy. Cliff Walk dealt with how the era of ubiquitous pornography is affecting the American culture, including both sexual morality and religion. Providence Rag examined what happens when the interests of justice and public safety collide. And in A Scourge of Vipers, I explore the hypocrisy surrounding legal and illegal sports betting and the corrupting influence of big money on politics. The crime novelists I most enjoy reading also use the form to write about subjects that affect us all. James Lee Burke, Laura Lippman, George Pelecanos and Richard Price are among those who leap to mind.

What are a few of your biggest literary influences?

That’s a difficult question for me, because there are so many. The mean streets of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. The noir sensibilities of Jim Thompson and James Ellroy. The lyrical beauty of novels by James Lee Burke and Daniel Woodrell. The quirky characters created by Howard Frank Mosher. The astonishing poetry of my wife, Patricia Smith. And lots more. But the opening paragraph of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row is my favorite passage in the English language.

If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?

Daniel Woodrell

Daniel Woodrell

Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone. The author transformed a simple country girl into one of the most memorable female protagonists in all of literature, and the writing is so lyrical that you could break the entire book into lines of poetry and read it as a modern-day Illiad.

What are you currently reading? Is there anything you’re looking forward to this year?

I’m an accidental mimic. If I read a book while I’m writing, my narrative voice starts to sound like the author’s instead of my own. So when I’m writing a novel, which I’m doing now, the only thing I dare to read is my daily New York Times. During the three months of the year when I’m not working on a novel, I blitz-read dozens of books, mostly history and crime novels—both authors I admire and books that I review for The Associated Press. In July, when I finish the fifth Mulligan novel for publication next year, I’ll be diving into a stack of recent novels by Dennis Lehane, Richard Price, Laura Lippman, Ace Atkins, James Ellroy and a host of others.

What’s next for you?

The fifth Mulligan novel, tentatively titled Dreadline, will be published next spring. In it, Mulligan moves out of his crummy apartment in a ramshackle Providence triple-decker and sets up housekeeping in a little waterfront cottage on the island of Jamestown in Narragansett Bay. The new life he’s fashioned for himself has put a bit more money in his pocket. His on-again, off-again relationship with the beautiful lawyer who was introduced in Providence Rag is on again. And he’s enjoying the companionship of two huge, loveable dogs. He’s carrying on a vendetta with a serial-killer cat who leaves its kills on his porch, investigating a baffling jewelry robbery, hunting a fiend who’s been torturing animals, and investigating the dubious background of a star football player for the New England Patriots. Although he’s still battling injustice and getting into trouble, he’s found a small measure of peace in the new life I’ve created for him.

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Who’s Reading “A Scourge of Vipers?” Former Providence, R.I., Mayor Buddy Cianci

BuddyLook who’s reading A Scourge of Vipers, the new crime novel in my Edgar Award-winning series set in Providence, Rhode Island. It’s former Providence Mayor Vincent A Cianci Jr., better known as “Buddy.”

These days, he hosts the most popular drive-time radio show in Rhode Island, and yesterday he had me on the air to talk about the book.

The novel has already received rave reviews from The Associated Press and The Providence Journal, and coveted starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. It’s available in hardcover, e-book, and audio editions. To order it, you can find from chain and independent online booksellers here.

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The Real-Life Inspiration for My New Crime Novel, “A Scourge of Vipers”

Editor’s note:  This article originally appeared in The Rap Sheet, a website devoted to crime fiction.

One morning a couple of years ago, I poured myself a cup of coffee, opened my New York Times, and spotted a story about sports gambling. It wasn’t about the odds on the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl, or an exposé on point-shaving, or a breathless account of a raid on a bookie joint. Instead, it was a dry-as-dust bit of government reporting on a bill Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey was planning to introduce.

chris_christie_150893439_fullwidth_620x350Republican Christie, eager for ways to balance the state budget without raising taxes, wanted to legalize sports gambling so he could tax the profits. I could see right off that the idea was bound to generate some heat.

For one thing, it meant Christie would have to take on the U.S. government, because federal law outlaws sports gambling everywhere but in Nevada and three other states where it was grandfathered in.

For another thing, it pitted the governor against the men who ran the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the professional sports leagues, all of whom had long opposed legalization, claiming it would threaten the integrity of their games.

Sure enough, the NCAA was especially apoplectic, threatening to blackball New Jersey arenas from the annual March Madness basketball tournament unless Christie backed down.

And the way I saw it, organized crime figures, aghast at the prospect of seeing their bookmaking profits disappear, wouldn’t much like Christie’s plan, either.

But the governor’s proposal also had powerful supporters. Some public employee unions saw it as a way to protect their threatened pensions. And the Atlantic City gambling kingpins were eager to tap this new source of revenue. Once, they had run the only games east of the Mississippi; but they’d seen their profits cut in half by the explosion of casino gambling in nearby states over the last couple of decades, and they were growing desperate.

What all this portended was conflict–not such a good thing for the legislative process, perhaps, but solid gold for a crime novelist.

ragI clipped the story from the paper and started keeping a file on developments. As soon as I finished writing Providence Rag, the third book in my Edgar Award-winning series of crime novels set in Providence, Rhode Island, I started researching sports gambling in earnest. I thought I already knew quite a bit about the subject, but I was startled by some of what I learned.

I knew a lot of Americans liked to bet on sports, but I had no idea how many. According to surveys, 85 percent of us gamble on sporting events at least once in a while.

I also knew a lot of money was changing hands, but I had no idea how much. It turns out that the total amount Americans gamble on sports, most of it bet illegally, is estimated at three hundred and eighty billion dollars a year. To put that figure in perspective, it’s six times greater than the annual budget of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Clearly, both the proponents and opponents of Christie’s plan had deep pockets, millions at their disposal to try to influence the outcome. And before long, a number of other governors with hard-pressed state budgets started thinking about following Christie’s lead.

So I asked myself, “what if”–the question that has launched every novel I’ve written.

What if the colorful fictional governor I’d introduced in my previous novels proposed legalizing sports gambling in Rhode Island? Fiona McNerney, a former religious sister nicknamed Attila the Nun for her take-no-prisoners style of politics, wasn’t much like Christie, but she did resemble him in one respect. She wasn’t one to back down in the face of pressure.

With that, my new novel, A Scourge of Vipers, began to take shape.

4ca6f-a2bscourge2bof2bvipersThe action begins when powerful organizations that have a lot to lose–or gain–if gambling is made legal, flood Rhode Island with millions of dollars to buy the votes of state legislators. All that money in a little state where the average campaign for a seat in the state legislature normally costs just $10,000.

Naturally, all hell breaks loose. First, a powerful state legislator turns up dead. Then a mobbed-up bagman gets shot down, and his briefcase full of cash goes missing.

My protagonist, Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter for the fictional Providence Dispatch, wants to investigate, but the bottom-feeding conglomerate that recently purchased the struggling newspaper has no interest in serious public-interest reporting. So Mulligan goes rogue, digging into the story on his own. Soon, shadowy forces try to derail his investigation by destroying his career, his reputation, and perhaps his life.

The result is at once a suspenseful murder mystery and a serious exploration of the hypocrisy surrounding sports betting and the corrupting influence of big money on politics.

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

The professional sports leagues sued to stop him, and 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.

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The Hero of “A Scourge of Vipers,” and Why I Feel Such a Strong Personal Bond with Him

VipersThis blog entry about Liam Mulligan, the protagonist in my series of hardboiled crime novels, first appeared on the Lesa’s Book Critiques website:

The last time I saw Bruce DeSilva was at the Poisoned Pen book store in 2010. So, I welcomed the chance to catch up with him. His new book, A Scourge of Vipers, is released today. It’s the perfect time for a guest post. Thank you, Bruce.

I know Liam Mulligan isn’t real, but sometimes I can’t help but worry about him. After four books, he and I have been through a great deal together.

In the first novel, the Edgar Award-winning Rogue Island, an arsonist torched the

Punk Rocker Marilyn Manson reading "Rogue Island"

Punk Rocker Marilyn Manson reading “Rogue Island”

working class neighborhood where he grew up, the woman he loved cruelly betrayed him, a friend he cared deeply about was killed, and the only way he could find justice was to become complicit in three mob murders.

In the second novel, Cliff Walk, I dragged him through the ugly underbelly of Rhode Island’s sex trade. By the end of the book, his nagging ulcer had become a threat to his health, and the ugliness he’d uncovered had given him nightmares and upended his

Lee Child reading "Cliff Walk"

Lee Child reading “Cliff Walk”

long-held convictions about sexual morality and religion. In the closing scene, perhaps my favorite piece of writing in any of the Mulligan novels, he’d become painfully lonely—a man whose best friend and only confidante was the headstone marking the grave of his dearest friend.

In the third novel, Providence Rag, the plot’s impossible ethical dilemma pitted him against the man who had been his staunchest

Lawrence Block reading "Providence Rag"

Lawrence Block reading “Providence Rag”

ally, leading him to doubt that he was on the right side of the issue. His actions caused economic harm to the newspaper he worked for and put several people he cared about in mortal danger. I tried to soften the blows by throwing him into the arms of a stunningly beautiful lawyer, but sadly his affections were not reciprocated.

So in the new novel, A Scourge of Vipers, I finally cut my imaginary friend a little slack. The first three novels were littered with innocent victims, but this time, Mulligan finds solace in the fact that nearly everyone who gets killed had it coming. And that beautiful lawyer tiptoes back into his life, not yet ready to commit to him but raising the possibility that they might have a future together.

But there is one thing I could not help my friend Mulligan with. I could not do anything to fix his job.

In the first chapter of the new book, Mulligan gets together with Domenic “Whoosh” Zerilli, his longtime bookie, at their downtown Providence hangout, a bucket-of-blood bar ironically named Hopes. Zerilli wants to talk about the future.  “I was a newspaper reporter,” Mulligan says, “so I didn’t have one,” And that’s about the size of it.

Mulligan joined the staff of the mythical Providence Dispatch the summer after he graduated from Providence College, where he’d backed up Dickey Simpkins on a mediocre basketball team. Back then, he had big dreams. He was going to be an investigative reporter—the next Seymour Hersh or Edward R. Murrow. In those days, The Dispatch seemed like the right place to do it. Like The Providence Journal, the real-life newspaper I loosely modeled it after, it was one of the finest small-city newspapers in America with a talented staff of 380 journalists who excelled at beat reporting, explanatory journalism, and blockbuster investigations.

By the time we picked up Mulligan’s story in Rogue Island, he was nearly forty years old and had a Pulitzer Prize to his credit; but the economic changes that are destroying print journalism were already taking a toll.

With each subsequent novel, budget cuts and layoffs continued to wither the newspaper, forcing Mulligan to pitch in writing obituaries and weather stories while conducting investigations largely on his own time. As A Scourge of Vipers opens, the newspaper has been scooped up by a bottom-feeding conglomerate that slashes the newsroom staff to just forty journalists and has no interest in serious reporting.

The action begins when Rhode Island’s colorful fictional governor, a former religious sister nicknamed Attila the Nun, proposes legalizing sports gambling to ease the state’s budget crisis. Organized crime figures, out-of-state casino operators, pro sports leagues, public employee unions, and others who have a lot to lose—or gain—if gambling is made legal flood the little state with millions of dollars to buy the votes of Rhode Island politicians. This in a tiny state where the average campaign for the state legislature costs just ten thousand dollars.

Soon, a powerful state senator turns up dead, a mob bagman gets shot down, and his briefcase full of cash goes missing.

Mulligan wants to investigate, but his bosses lack the stomach and resources for ambitious public-service reporting. So Mulligan goes rogue, digging into the story on his own. Soon, shadowy forces try to derail him by destroying his career, his reputation, and perhaps his life.

I never outline, preferring to discover the story as I go along. But before I was halfway through writing A Scourge of Vipers, it was obvious to me that Mulligan’s newspaper career was headed for a bad end. He was either going to get fired or quit in anger—unless the struggling newspaper died out from under him first.

So in addition to unravelling a suspenseful the story of murder and political corruption, I needed to help Mulligan build a new future for himself. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

Mulligan is forty-four years old now, and newspapering is all he has ever known. He’s always thought he could never be any good at anything else—that if he couldn’t be a newspaper reporter, he’d end up sitting on the floor of the bus station selling pencils out of a paper cup.

For his sake, and the for sake of the future Mulligan novels, I needed to prove him wrong.

He wasn’t entirely without prospects. His friend Bruce McCracken dangled a job at his private detective firm. But that’s not journalism. His young protégé, Edward Anthony Mason III, son of The Dispatch’s former publisher, offered him a reporting job at The Ocean State Rag, his start-up local news website. But the business wasn’t making any money yet, so the job didn’t pay much. And Zerilli, closing in on eighty years old now, wanted to retire to Florida and hoped Mulligan would be interested in taking over his bookmaking business.

In the end, I think readers will find that what Mulligan decides do with the rest of his life is both surprising and ingenious.

The main reason I have so much empathy for Mulligan is that he and I are a lot alike. He’s been an investigative reporter all his life. I used to be one. He has trouble with authority. I was never any good at taking orders. He’s prone to ill-timed wisecracks. I get a lot of complaints about the same thing. He has a strong but flexible sense of morality, willing to break rules, or even the law, to expose corruption and bring bad guys to justice; and when he encounters injustice, he’s determined to get to the root of the matter no matter the personal risk. When I was a reporter, I was a lot like that. As the son of a good man who raised a family on a milkman’s paycheck, he has a lot of working-class rage. I’ve got some of that in me, too. And the music of blues musicians such as Buddy Guy and Koko Taylor form the soundtrack of both his life and mine.

Mulligan isn’t me, of course. Among other things, he’s twenty-two years younger and a lot taller. Although both of us love basketball, I was never tall enough or good enough to play for a college team. And unlike Mulligan, I don’t own a gun and have never shot anyone.  . . . Yet.

But the more time I spend telling the story of his life, the fonder I become of him. Howard Frank Mosher, author of Waiting for Teddy Williams and one of my favorite writers, sent me an email proclaiming that Mulligan is “the most human, unpredictable, and anti-authoritarian fictional character I’ve met since Ranger Gus McCrae of Lonesome Dove.” I’d like to think that he’s right.

In the next novel, tentatively titled Dreadline, which I’m writing for publication next year, Mulligan moves out of his crummy apartment in a ramshackle Providence triple-decker and sets up housekeeping in a little waterfront cottage on the island of Jamestown in Narragansett Bay. He’s got a bit more money in his pocket. His on-again, off-again relationship with that beautiful lawyer is on again. And he’s enjoying the companionship of two huge, loveable dogs. Although he’s still battling injustice and getting into trouble—and always will be—he’s found some small measure of peace in the new life I’ve created for him.

But like me, Mulligan is still grieving over the demise of the newspaper business that he and I both love.

There’s a lot of good stuff about books on Lesa’s Book Critiques, which you can find here.

To purchase A Scouge of Vipers and the rest of the Mulligan crime novels, check out the links to independent and chain online book sellers here.

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The Associated Press Raves About “A Scourge of Vipers”

VipersThe AP says: “Edgar Award-winning author Bruce DeSilva delivers another outstanding mystery featuring his Providence, Rhode Island, investigative journalist Liam Mulligan in A Scourge of Vipers.”

You can read the entire review here.

Click here for links to online booksellers, including both independents and chains, that are carrying it.

So far, the reviews have been unanimous.

Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, two of the bibles of the publishing industry, have both given in coveted starred reviews, the latter calling it “quality all the way.”

The Providence Journal review says: “DeSilva plainly belongs in the company of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, a contemporary tour guide through society’s seedy underbelly who has fashioned a masterpiece of hard-boiled crime melodrama.”

And James Lee Burke, a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, says: “Bruce DeSilva writes a story in the tradition of Hammett and Higgins, and he writes it with the knowledge of an old-time police reporter. DeSilva knows cops, corruption in eastern cities, wiseguys, rounders, bounders, gamblers, and midnight ramblers. He writes with authority about the issues of our times, and he does it with honesty and candor. If you want a hardboiled view of how a city actually works, this is your book.”

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“A Scourge of Vipers” Officially Released Today, April 7

CartonToday is the official release date for A Scourge of Vipers, the fourth novel in my Edgar Award-winning series of crime novels.

Click here for links to online booksellers, including both independents and chains, that are carrying it.

Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, two of the bibles of the publishing industry, have both given in coveted starred reviews, the latter calling it “quality all the way.”

The Providence Journal review says: “DeSilva plainly belongs in the company of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, a contemporary tour guide through society’s seedy underbelly who has fashioned a masterpiece of hard-boiled crime melodrama.”

And James Lee Burke, a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, says: “Bruce DeSilva writes a story in the tradition of Hammett and Higgins, and he writes it with the knowledge of an old-time police reporter. DeSilva knows cops, corruption in eastern cities, wiseguys, rounders, bounders, gamblers, and midnight ramblers. He writes with authority about the issues of our times, and he does it with honesty and candor. If you want a hardboiled view of how a city actually works, this is your book.”

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“A Scourge of Vipers is a Masterpiece” — The Providence Journal

VipersThe Providence Journal always reviews my hard-boiled crime novels, perhaps because the books, featuring investigative reporter Liam Mulligan, are set in that city. This time the newspaper tapped veteran thriller writer Jon Land, a Rhode Island native, to write the review. Here’s what he said in part:

If A Scourge of Vipers were a film, it would’ve been shot in black and white, full of empty paper coffee cups and laced with stale cigarette smoke. Bogart could play a deadpan Mulligan as a 21st-century update of Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe. DeSilva plainly belongs in the company of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, a contemporary tour guide through society’s seedy underbelly who has fashioned a masterpiece of hard-boiled crime melodrama.

You can read the full text of the review here.

A Scourge of Vipers, the third novel in my Edgar Award-winning series, had already received coveted starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. The book officially goes on sale April 7 and can be ordered in advance from one of the online booksellers you can find by clicking here.

And if you’d like to know more about the reviewer, you can read about Jon Land and his novels here.

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