In Bruce DeSilva’s third Liam Mulligan crime novel, Providence Rag, the reporter/sleuth must balance honesty with public safety.
What led you to try fiction after so many years as a journalist?
Newspapers have become a shell of the vital institutions they once had been. I can’t begin to describe how much damage this is doing to the American democracy. I have nothing but admiration for those hardy souls who battle on, but I grew weary of being part of a rear-guard action and became dispirited over the inevitability of decline. So when AP offered an early retirement package, I decided it was time for a second act. I had been an avid reader of hardboiled crime fiction ever since I discovered Chandler and Hammett in my early teens. So I thought I’d try my hand at it.
Have you dealt with the sort of ethical dilemma Mulligan has in Providence Rag?
Once I was part of a team looking into conditions at a state mental institution where patients were so badly neglected that some were dying from medical conditions rarely seen outside of third-world countries. Breaking the story would have necessitated talking staff members into leaking medical files that were, by law, confidential. And it would have required sneaking into the wards or posing as patients’ relatives to document what was going on inside. Doing so would have violated long-standing principles of journalism ethics. Not doing so meant that the neglect was sure to continue. We did what we had to do to report the story.
Is Providence really in a league of its own for corruption?
One thing that sets Rhode Island and its capital city apart is a culture of political corruption and organized crime that stretches all the way back to one of its first colonial governors dining with a notorious pirate named Captain Kidd. More recently, Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. did federal time for conspiring to operate a criminal enterprise—aka the city of Providence. And that just touches the surface. Given the pervasiveness and longevity of all this, I’d say, yeah, Providence is different.
How does Mulligan navigate such a compromised city?
Mulligan’s job is to root out corruption, but he was born and raised in Providence. He’s not above paying small bribes to get his hands on confidential documents. The way Mulligan sees it, graft comes in two varieties. The bad kind enriches greedy politicians and their rich friends at taxpayers’ expense. The good kind supplements the wages of underpaid state workers, putting braces on their kids’ teeth. Without the lubrication of good graft, Mulligan says, not much would get done in Rhode Island, and nothing at all would happen on time.