Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Background Check on: Providence Rag (Liam Mulligan) by Bruce DeSilva
Q: Tell us what to expect from your new book, PROVIDENCE RAG.
A: Providence Rag is the third novel in my Edgar Award-winning hardboiled crime series featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter for a dying newspaper in Providence, R.I. The book was inspired by a true story – one I covered as a journalist many years ago. I’ve long been fascinated by the case of Craig Price, The Warwick Slasher, a teenager who stabbed two young women and two female children to death in his suburban Rhode Island neighborhood before he was old enough to drive. Price was just thirteen when his murder spree began and fifteen when he was caught, making him one of the youngest serial killers in U.S. history. But that’s not the interesting part.
When he was arrested in 1989, Rhode Island’s juvenile justice statutes had not been updated for decades. When they were written, no one had ever envisioned a child like him, so the law required that all minors, regardless of their crimes, be released at age 21 and given a fresh start. Nevertheless, he remains behind bars to this day, convicted of committing a series of jailhouse offenses.
I have long suspected that some of these charges were fabricated, but in the very least, Price has been absurdly over-sentenced. For example, he was given an astounding 30 years for contempt for declining to submit to a court-ordered psychiatric examination. Have the authorities abused their power to prevent his release? I think so. Should he ever be let out to kill again? Absolutely not. The ethical dilemma this poses fascinates me. No matter which side of it you come down on, you are condoning something that is reprehensible.
In the novel, the murders are committed and the killer caught in the first seventy-five pages. The rest of the book follows Mulligan, his fellow reporters, his editors, and the entire community, as they struggle to decide which is worse: condoning the abuse of power that is keeping the killer behind bars or exposing it and allowing him to be released to kill again. With powerful forces on both sides of the question, the suspense mounts as it becomes increasingly likely that the psychopath will be set free.
Q: What scenes did you enjoy writing the most?
The narrative is broken by thirteen italicized passages that allow readers peers directly into the mind of the psychotic killer from early childhood to middle age. I loved writing them because the rest of the book is heavy on dialogue, and these scenes gave me the opportunity to write in a more lyrical voice. They are important because when the killer speaks elsewhere in the novel, he mostly lies. They’re pretty creepy, though. I wonder what it says about me that I found it easy to imagine how the monster thinks.
Q: Who is your favorite among the characters in the book?
I have a fondness for Fiona McNerney, a close childhood friend of my protagonist and former a Little Sisters of the Poor nun, who is now serving as the state’s embattled governor.
Because of her take-no-prisoners approach to politics, headline writers have dubbed her Attila the Nun.
Q: How long did it take you to write it?
When I’m working on a novel, my goal is to write at least a thousand good words a day. If I accomplish that in a couple of hours, I can give myself the rest of the day off. But if I don’t have a thousand good words after eight hours, I have to keep my butt in the chair until I reach my goal. By doing that, I should be able to turn out an eighty-thousand-word novel in eighty days. Of course, it never quite works out like that. Some days, when life intrudes, I don’t write at all. There are household chores to be done, ballgames and blues concerts to attend, vacations to take, family obligations to be met. Including such interruptions, Providence Rag, my most complex book to date, was completed in six months.
Q: Did writing the book take a lot of research?
Yes and no. When I covered the real-life story for Rhode Island Monthy magazine years ago, I did a lot of research about the state’s juvenile justice laws and the state prison system. I interviewed the police detectives and forensics experts who worked the case. I read a lot of research about the minds of serial murderers and interviewed experts including Robert K. Ressler, the retired FBI agent credited with coining the term “serial killer.” So all I had to do for the book was brush up on the most recent research on the subject. Thanks to Google, that took less than a day.
Q: Will we see Liam return after PROVIDENCE RAG?
Absolutely. I just finished the fourth Mulligan novel, tentatively titled Providence Vipers, which explores the world of legal and illegal sports gambling. It will be published in hardcover and e-book formats by Forge about a year from now. Once I return from a month-long, coast-to-coast book tour in early April, I’ll dive into three new projects. One will be the fifth Mulligan novel. Another will be a stand-alone, or perhaps the beginning of a new series, featuring a young man who is trying to decide which side of the law to live his life on. And the third will be a collaboration with my wife, the poet Patricia Smith, on a novel set in her native Chicago. I’ve made small starts on all three, but I’m not sure which one I’ll finish first.
Q. Is there anything else you'd like to say about the book?
Although the characters and plots of my first two crime novels, Rogue Island and Cliff Walk, sprang entirely from my imagination, this has not prevented some readers that suspecting each was a Roman à clef. No, I tell them, the mayor in my books is not a thinly-veiled depiction of former Providence Mayor Vincent A. Cianci. No, the attorney general is not my take on former Rhode Island Attorney General Arlene Violet. Despite my protests, readers continue to speculate. In fact, two of my old journalism colleagues are convinced that my protagonist is based on them. He’s not. Because of this, I initially resisted the urge to fictionalize the Price case.
In the novel, I invent an early childhood for the killer. I give him a love of reading, allow him to display a clever but chilling sense of humor, and provide him with a prison jargon-laced style of speaking. But I have never met Craig Price. I know nothing of his childhood. I don't know how he talks. I don’t know what drove him to murder. So the character in my novel is most emphatically not Craig Price. None of the other characters in the book represent real people either. Of course, every novelist draws material from life and fashions it into something new.
Still, I can’t help but worry that some readers will view the book as disguised contemporary history. That made Providence Rag a difficult, nerve-wracking book to write.
You can learn more about me on my website: http://brucedesilva.com/
And on my blog: http://brucedesilva.wordpress.com/