"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.”
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."
The New York Times
" The city of Providence comes to vivid life, and the cast
of quirky characters makes A Scourge of Vipers a perfect read for
hard-boiled mystery fans who also enjoy dashes of humor. What makes
the story exceptional is that while all of this is happening, DeSilva,
a retired Associated Press writing coach, forces the reader to
examine the ramifications of how politics and money don't mix."
The Associated Press
" 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
-- The Providence Journal
A starred review from Library Journal: Rhode Island Governor Fiona
McNerney proposes the legalization of sports betting to reduce
the state's budget deficit. The mob opposes the idea because
it would eat into its bookmaking business, and sports oversight
groups claim it would open up games to dishonesty. After Atlantic
City mobsters show up in Providence with bags of cash, presumably
to influence legislators, veteran newspaper reporter Liam Mulligan
investigates. When a state legislator and several other people
turn up dead, Mulligan soon becomes a prime suspect in several
murders. Verdict: DeSilva's Edgar and Macavity Award-winning
books (most recently Providence Rag) are a consistently well-written
hard-boiled series. Few of the regular characters have roles
here. Still, this excellent addition features a bit of romance,
a lot of action, plenty of snappy repartee, and social commentary
on the fate of newspaper journalism and the corrupting role of
money in the political process. Quality all the way.
From Kirkus Reviews: A fourth chapter in the race to the bottom
between the state of Rhode Island and Providence Dispatch reporter
Liam Mulligan (Providence Rag, 2014, etc.).Ever since the Dispatch was purchased by General Communications Holdings International,
Mulligan's career has been on life support. But the Ocean State
is giving Mulligan a run for his money in the hard-luck stakes.
Now that Mulligan's old pal Gov. Fiona McNerney, whose years in
the convent earned her the sobriquet Attila the Nun, is considering
a bill to legalize sports betting in Little Rhody, money is flooding
into the state. The goal is to purchase—um, influence— lawmakers
on both sides of the issue; the effect is to throw the state's
normal racketeering-cum-bribery apparatus, represented by Dominic "Whoosh" Zerelli,
Mulligan's elderly bookmaker, into turmoil. Suspecting that the
time has come to turn in his chips, Whoosh urges Mulligan to take
over his book—a move that doesn't sit at all well with his
great-nephew Mario Zerelli. And there are murders too—not
of anyone worth mourning but enough to set a pair of cops Mulligan
dubs the Homicide Twins on his tail. The fade-out finds Mulligan
wondering whether to stake his future on the mean streets of Providence
or the online reaches of the rival Ocean State Rag. The mystery
this time is no more than a pendant to a frantic, funny, unsparing
account of the corrosive power of big money on print journalism,
state government and the fragile souls who fill out the cast. Enjoy
it on those terms, and you'll be sorry when it's over.
From Booklist: A body fished out of a river. A body found in a
small-plane crash. Both crime scenes are covered by Liam Mulligan,
a bitter general-assignment reporter for a nearly defunct Rhode
Island newspaper, The Providence Dispatch. Readers have seen Mulligan
flex his investigative-reporting muscles before; the first in the
series, the Edgar-winning Rogue Island, set Mulligan against the
forces of cable and Internet that have doomed newspapers. This
time he saves his most virulent attacks for how mindless management
now perverts journalism into a game played purely for profit. Meanwhile,
Rhode Island’s governor, a former member of the Little Sisters
of the Poor, now referred to as Attila the Nun, wants to legalize
gambling in the state. This sets off a spate of double crosses,
bribes, and murders as organized-crime fights to keep hands on
the money controls. DeSilva is spot-on, as only a journalist with
a 40-year newspaper career behind him can be, when it comes to
corruption. His dialogue has everyone sounding as if they’ve
just completed a “Talk like a Martin Scorsese thug” course.
"A Scourge of Vipers is the best Mulligan yet and
one of the two or three best books I've read in the past year or
more. Great plotting,
great characters, great prose, great everything. This WILL be Edgar-nominated,
or there's something very, very wrong."
-- Timothy Hallinan,
author of the critically-acclaimed Poke Rafferty and Junior Bender
“A Scourge of Vipers has made me an instant Bruce DeSilva
fan. In the tradition of the great noir protagonists, Liam Mulligan
a true hero with whom you'll love spending time. DeSilva's got
the most entertaining narrative voice I've come upon in years --
funny, wise, whip-smart, and just sensitive enough. He's already
got an Edgar Award and -- damn his eyes! -- this might be his second."
York Times best-selling thriller writer John Lescroart
A Starred Review from Publishers Weekly: Edgar-winner DeSilva's
excellent fourth Liam Mulligan novel finds the Providence, R.I.,
investigative journalist on hard times professionally. His newspaper,
The Dispatch, has been reduced to a shell of its former self, publishing
fluff rather than substance and largely staffed by wet-behind-the-ears
newcomers. His jerk of an editor, Charles Twisdale, is more concerned
with the bottom line and advertising revenue than reporting the
news, leaving Mulligan feeling like a dinosaur on the verge of
extinction. But if that's to be his fate, the reporter is determined
to go down swinging, pursuing the truth behind a series of murders
that appear linked to the governor, colorfully known as "Attila
the Nun," who hopes to solve the state's public-pension crisis
by legalizing sports gambling. The lean prose and clever plotting
will remind hard-boiled fans of Loren Estleman's Amos Walker novels.
"There's some thought provoking scenes in this one. Both about
politics and racism. And DeSilva manages to wrap all of that up
neatly in a story about a cool, wisecracking detective. This is
what hardboiled fiction is all about."
-- Sons of Sam Spade
A Scourge of Vipers, by Bruce DeSilva
A snake—that's what Mario Zerilli had called me. And now,
just an hour later, something was slithering across my cracked
kitchen linoleum. It was three feet long with lemon racing stripes
twisting the length of its brown body. I watched it slide past
the wheezing fridge and veer toward the kitchen table where my
bare feet rested on the floor.
It raised its head and froze, its forked tongue flickering. It had caught my
I pushed back from the table, got down on my knees, and studied it. A pretty
thing. I flashed out my right hand and pinched it just behind its head. It writhed,
its body a bullwhip. I was startled by its strength.
I carried the snake into the bedroom, opened my footlocker, and used my left
hand to empty it, tossing a half-dozen New England Patriots and Boston Bruins
sweatshirts and a spare blanket onto the bed. Beneath the blanket was a Colt
.45 that once belonged to my grandfather. I tossed that on the bed, too. Then
I dropped the snake inside, slammed the lid, and started thinking about names.
Stop it, I told myself. The garter snake was probably an escaped pet, the property
of someone else in the tenement building. How else could it have found its way
into my second floor apartment? When I had the time, I'd ask around, but if no
one claimed it, I'd be heading to pet store for a suitable cage.
I could hear the snake blindly exploring inside the foot locker, its scales rasping
as they slid against the wood. I couldn't help myself. I started thinking about
names again. Mario leaped to mind. But no, I couldn’t call it that. I liked
garter snakes. If Mario had sneaked it in, it would have been a copperhead or
a timber rattler.
The trouble with Mario started a week ago when his great uncle, Dominic “Whoosh” Zerilli,
and I got together over boilermakers at Hopes, the local press hangout, to talk
about the future. I was a newspaper reporter, so I didn’t have one. Whoosh
was contemplating retirement.
“The wife’s still nagging me about it,” he said. “Wants
sell the house, turn my business over to Mario, and move to Florida.”
“So why don’t you?”
“I'm thinkin’ on it.”
“And what are you thinking?”
“I'm thinkin’ I'm sick to death of fuckin’ snow. I'm thinkin’ the
warm weather might be good for my arthritis. I'm thinkin’ that if I move
down there, I won’t have to listen to Maggie talk about moving down there
every fuckin’ night.”
But she’s got her heart set on one of them retirement villages in Vero
Beach or Boca Raton. Keeps shovin’ brochures in my face. ‘Look at
this, honey,’ she tells me. ‘They got maid service, swimmin’ pools,
croquet, a golf course, horseshoes, craft rooms, shuffleboard. And have you ever
seen so many flowers?’”
He made a face, the same one I once saw him make when he absentmindedly stuck
the coal end of a Lucky Strike in his mouth.
“Sounds nice,” I said.
“Oh, yeah? Then you move down there with her.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“You shittin’ me? Craft rooms? Croquet? And I hate fuckin’ shuffleboard.
No way I’m wastin’ whatever years I got left listenin’ to a
bunch of wheezers with bum tickers and colostomy bags pass gas and brag about
the grandkids that never visit while they wait for the reaper to show up. Jesus
Christ, Mulligan. Have you ever seen them fuckin’ places? They’re
full of old people.”
Whoosh was a few months short of eighty.
“Don’t you dare laugh at me, asshole.”
“Yeah, but it’s takin’ some effort.”
He waved the waitress over and ordered us both another round of Bushmills shots
with Killian’s chasers.
“Maybe you could compromise,” I said. “Get yourself a beachfront
on Sanibel Island or a luxury condo in Fort Myers.”
“Where the Sox have spring training? I already thought of that. Trouble
no way I can hand the business over to Mario.”
“Cuz he’s a fuckin’ moron.”
Mario, just 26 years old, had already done state time for drunken driving and
for using his girlfriend as a tackling dummy. Now he was awaiting trial for kicking
the crap out of a transvestite who made the near-fatal mistake of slipping out
of The Stable, Providence’s newest gay bar, to smoke a cigarette. But he
was Whoosh’s only living blood relative. The punk had inherited the title
two years ago when his father was gunned down in a botched bank robbery. Mario’s
grandfather, Whoosh’s only brother, fell to esophageal cancer back in 1997
while serving a ten-year stretch for fencing stolen goods.
Whoosh and Maggie did have an adopted daughter; but Lucia, a young mother who
performed with a New York City dance troupe, was an unlikely candidate to take
over his bookmaking business. My friend and his wife never had any kids of their
“Wouldn’t trust Mario with the business even if Arena gave a thumbs-up,” Whoosh
was saying. “Which there’s no fuckin’ way he’s ever gonna.”
“He already said. The kid’s unreliable. Draws too much attention
“So what are you going to do?”
“Find somebody I can trust,” he said. “Ain’t all that
much to it, really. Take the bets, pay off the winners, collect from the losers.
half of the profits, and wire the rest once a month to an account I got down
in the Caymans.”
“Got somebody in mind?”
“Why not? You been tellin’ me how much you hate the corporate pricks
bought The Dispatch. You keep sayin’ they’re gonna fire your ass
if you don’t up and quit first. We been friends a long time, Mulligan.
You’ve hung around me enough to understand how I do business. Anything
you don’t know, I can show you. How to write bets down in code. Which cops
to pay off. How much tribute you gotta kick upstairs to Arena every month.”
“So whaddaya say?”
I’d never had a moral objection to bookmaking, at least not the way Zerilli
went about it. Unlike the officially-sanctioned gangsters at the Rhode Island
Lottery Commission, who peddled chump numbers games and scratch tickets to suckers,
my bookie had always given me a fair chance to win. But I was reluctant to climb
into bed with Giuseppe Arena. As head of the Patriarca crime family, his interests
included truck hijacking, union corruption, prostitution, arson-for-hire, money
laundering, and New England’s biggest luxury car-theft ring.
Still, I was growing anxious about how I’d manage to pay the rent and keep
my ancient Ford Bronco fed with gas and junkyard parts once The Dispatch was
done with me. My young pal Edward Anthony Mason IV—trust fund baby, son
of The Providence Dispatch’s former publisher, and first journalist laid
off when the paper’s new owners took over last year—was dangling
a reporting gig at his local online news startup, The Ocean State Rag. But the
venture wasn’t making any money yet, so the job didn’t pay much.
A standing offer to join my old buddy Bruce McCracken’s private detective
agency would pay better, but it wasn’t journalism.
But bookmaking? Now that was real money. I could replace the torn sofa I'd found
on the sidewalk, buy myself a new Mustang convertible, move into a luxury condo
on the bay, start an IRA. Maybe even invest in some Red Sox T-shirts that weren’t
adorned with cigar burns and pizza grease.
“Have you broken the news to Mario yet?” I asked.
“How he’s gonna take it?”
“He’s gonna be wicked pissed.”
“He’s still got that no-show sanitation department job, right?”
“Probably doesn’t pay much,” I said.
“A couple grand a month. Chump change if you gotta work for it, which he
so what’s to complain about?”
“He’ll make trouble,” I said, “unless you can buy him
“Already on it. I been introducin’ him to another line of work.”
“Somethin’ that don’t require a remedial course in junior high
__ So are you in or out?”
I took a pull from my beer, tipped my head back, and thought about it for a moment.
“Can you give me some time to mull it over?”
“Sure thing, Mulligan. Just don’t take too goddamn long, okay? I’m
havin’ a helluva time holding Maggie off. She’s fuckin’ relentless.”
I never learned how Mario found out about Whoosh’s offer, but two days
later the threatening phone calls started. The first one went something like
“The one and only. And you are?”
“I’m the guy who’s gonna be your worst nightmare if you don’t
stop messin’ with what’s mine.”
“So what am I messing with that’s yours? The redhead I picked up
“Cuz you’re welcome to her,” I said. “She’s a poor
and the sex was below average. I got no plans to see her again.”
“Stop kidding around, asshole. You know what I’m talkin’ about.”
“Let me think. Did my story about no-show sanitation jobs cause you some
“I’m talkin’ about my uncle’s racket, you dumb fuck.
hear what I’m saying, cuz this ain’t no joke. Back off, or I’m
gonna tear you a new one.”
He called me daily after that, usually right around midnight. I should have stopped
provoking him, but I didn’t. Sometimes I just can’t help myself.
So after work last Friday, I found my Ford Bronco vandalized in the parking lot
across from The Dispatch, although with all the old dents and rust, the new damage
matched the décor. And tonight, before I came home and found the snake,
Mario caught me staggering out of Hopes after last call and pointed a small nickel-plated
revolver at me.
“Ain’t laughing now,” he said, “are you, shithead?”
“You haven’t said anything funny yet.”
“My uncle’s racket is supposed to go to me. I'm his blood. This is
you're fuckin’ with.”
“Your future? Really? Punks who drive drunk, beat up women, and pull guns
streets usually don’t have one.”
I don’t know what you got on Uncle Whoosh, but I’m warning
lost. If you don’t, I’m gonna bust one right through your heart,
you fuckin’ snake.”
He was pointing the gun at my belly when he said it. I wasn’t sure if he
was confused about human anatomy or just a lousy shot.
Confident that he’d made his point, Mario brushed past me and pimp-walked
away down the sidewalk. As I turned to watch him go, he shoved the pistol into
his waistband and pulled his shirttail over it. I decided not to take any more
chances. The next time we met, Mario wouldn’t be the only one packing heat.
My late grandfather’s Colt, the sidearm he’d carried for decades
as a member of the Providence P.D., used to hang in a shadowbox on my apartment
wall. I’d taken it down and learned how to shoot a few years ago after
my investigation into a string of arsons in the city’s Mount Hope section
provoked death threats. But grandpa’s gun had a hell of a kick and was
too large for easy concealment. So after that encounter with Mario, I splurged
three hundred bucks on a Kel-Tech PF-9 at the D&L gun shop in Warwick. The
chopped-down pocket pistol was five-and-a-half inches long, had an unloaded weight
of just twelve-and-a-half ounces, and tucked comfortably into the waistband at
the small of my back.
Beyond ten yards, I couldn’t hit anything smaller than Narragansett Bay,
but I didn’t figure on doing any sharpshooting.