Bruce Desilva has been on my To Be Read list for a while, patiently working his way to the top. He’d just about made it when his third Liam Mulligan novel, Providence Rag, received so much attention I thought I might do well to start from the beginning, and chose to read Rogue Island instead. Yay, me.
Mulligan is an old-time investigative reporter in a 21st Century environment. His editors are more interested in feel-good fluff than exposes. Mulligan—don’t call him “Liam”—wants to look into who is burning down his old neighborhood, one house at a time, until the night they take down five. The cops don’t want anything to do with him, especially after an article he wrote on the two chief fire investigators is run under the headline “Dumb and Dumber.” The local fire battalion commander is a six-foot-five woman with the hots for Manny Ramirez; a bookie friend supplies Cuban cigars and inside Mafia dish. Mulligan’s ex-wife is a jealous mental case, and his current love interest is a fellow reporter who won’t tell him how she gets supposedly sealed grand jury testimony and won’t sleep with him until he has an HIV test.
There are more people in Mulligan’s world, each with their own memorable story, and each with their own layer to add. DeSilva handles them all with a journalist’s confidence of knowing what’s important and what is merely supportive. Unlike many journalists turned novelists, DeSilva has a light touch with the writing. There is no oppressively delivered message, and the humor runs throughout the book in appropriate ways, and is genuinely funny. His grasp of the corruption that passes as doing business is Providence is delivered with a combination of disdain and eye-rolling satire. (I hate spoilers, so skip ahead if you like, but this story is too much fun not to tell. It’s election season, and the leading contender to unseat the sitting mayor has legally changed her name to Angelina V. aRico, so it can appear first on the ballot. The mayor responds by changing his name to Rocco D. aaaaCarozza. When asked by a reporter how to pronounce that, the mayor replies with a straight face, “It’s Carozza. The four As are silent.”)
DeSilva is that rare author able to subsume his authorial voice into the material without letting it become styleless. All the writing flows and you’ll find yourself reading the book faster than you want to, in part because it reads so easily, in part because it’s so much fun, and—most important—because it’s so damn good. The ending is perfect, the kind of thing a reporter could pull off with sufficient contacts and balls.
He’s in the rotation now. There are a lot of books lined up to be read, but Cliff Walk (the second Mulligan book) can’t rise to the top soon enough.