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Monday, December 13, 2010

Rogue Island, by Bruce DeSilva (hardcover, $24.99) (c2010)

Beginning with the title of this book, Bruce DeSilva has crafted a clever and captivating novel. "Rogue Island" is either a bastardization of or a prior name for Rhode Island. Whichever, there are rogues aplenty.

The good guy is Liam Mulligan, a reporter for a Providence newspaper.

Aside: This is the second newspaper-related mystery -- the first was Eyes of the Innocent by Brad Parks, which won't be out until next February -- I've read in just a few weeks, and they are both very good. Of course, they are both tangentially about the woeful news that the papers themselves are making: advertisers are dropping off at a swift rate, subscribers ditto, and lay-offs are inevitable, undermining the usefulness and vitality of this form of daily information. Both books are excellent cheerleaders for keeping the art of newspaper reporting alive and kicking.

Back to the main feature: Someone is burning parts of Mulligan's childhood. Arson is claiming apartment buildings, houses, and other structures well known to him in the Mount Hope neighborhood. And people, some of whom Mulligan knows, are dying: children, an old man, and fire fighters among them. Mulligan's best friend, Rosie Morelli, is the Batallion Chief of one fire-fighting unit, and she is tired, frustrated, and at a loss to stop it. Mulligan begins an investigation that leads him into contact with the local mob and gives him an uninviting look into government corruption.

Mulligan's life is complicated by the impending divorce from Dorcas, his unpleasant, shrewish wife, and a new relationship with a fellow reporter, Veronica. Toss in the requisite sidekick: in this case, the fresh-out-of-college son of the publisher, the eager Mason, nicknamed "Thanks-Dad" by Mulligan. The almost-as-eager would-be photographer Gloria rounds out the main crew.

Mulligan's humorous musings and the descriptions of a decaying Providence are two sides of Bruce DeSilva's writing coin. He can be both wry and wrenching. Parts of poor Providence are sagging, flaking, flimsy, and corroding. The government buildings don't fare any better, adjectivally speaking: drab, grimy, and shit green with padlocked johns that are "fragrant and toxic" at the best of times anyway. Furthermore, Providence apparently is the stolen car capital and the mob likes to rig games there. All this can be gleaned from the first few pages. Nevertheless, you sense DeSilva has a great affection for "Rogue Island."

As a reporter, Mulligan has cultivated sources both legal and extra-legal. He has also upset forces both legal and extra-legal, which gives the book a punch and dramatic uncertainty about which way the story will go. A dynamic debut.

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