A Starred Review from the Bible of the Book Biz
"The legality of prostitution in Rhode Island figures prominently
in the plot of DeSilva’s sterling follow-up to 2010’s
Rogue Island, which won Edgar and Macavity awards for
best first novel. Liam Mulligan, a reporter for the declining Providence
must handle a range of stories, from the discovery of body parts
in Scalici Recycling’s pig farm in Pascoag to the apparent
murder of Sal Maniella, pornographer and owner of several strip
clubs, whose body is found on the rocks below Newport’s famed
Cliff Walk. Mulligan’s investigative work keeps him hopping,
as do sexy black lawyer Yolanda Mosley-Jones, who represents the
Maniellas; Mulligan’s divorce-seeking wife, Dorcas; and Maniella’s
ex-SEAL bodyguards. Mulligan sports a bad ulcer, plenty of attitude,
and connections that span all strata of society. The brilliantly
limned supporting characters include Rhode Island attorney general
Fiona McNerney (aka Attila the Nun) and earnest Edward Anthony
Mason IV, “the scion of six inbred Yankee families that had
owned the Dispatch since the Civil War.” Look for this one
to garner more award nominations."
-- Publishers Weekly
Mulligan Never Less than Compelling Company
"The epic, warts-and-all portrait of the city is scathing; ulcer-ridden
wiseacre Mulligan (Rogue Island, 2010) is never less than compelling
company; and the analogies between the newspaper business and the
porn business are spot-on. As in Mulligan’s hard-nosed debut,
the real star here is Providence, which the author knows intimately."
-- Kirkus Reviews
Booklist calls Cliff Walk "Terrific On
"Ex-journalist DeSilva won both the Edgar and Macavity awards for
best first novel with his debut thriller, Rogue Island (2010).
His second book proves the awards were no fluke.
Liam Mulligan returns as a man who fell in love a long time ago
with the wrong profession, journalism, and who records the layoffs
and cutbacks inflicted on his daily paper in Providence, Rhode
Island, as he struggles to keep doing investigative work. A last-minute
assignment to cover a soiree at a Newport mansion finds Mulligan
catching a breather on the famed Cliff Walk fronting the mansions
and facing the sea. He’s just in time to see a man in a tuxedo
fall to his death on the rocks below.
The man turns out to be an Internet pornographer with ties to Rhode
Island’s power elite. And his death turns out to be from
a gunshot in his neck. Mulligan has to convince “Thanks-Dad,” the
son of the paper’s publisher, to let him investigate.
His examination into the Cliff Walk murder leads into the porn
empire that has tentacles into so many power brokers’ pockets,
and into a series of child murders. Although DeSilva is writing
about pornography, he never exploits it for cheap thrills. His
plotting is exquisite.
Mulligan’s musings on the dying newspaper industry,
coupled with his unrelenting love and respect for journalism, could
only come from someone like DeSilva, who worked for AP for decades.
Terrific on every level.”
Sons of Spade Calls Cliff Walk Great
"Liam Mulligan, Rhode Island's hardboiled reporter is back in this
great new novel by Hardboiled Collective member Bruce DeSilva.
A child's severed arm shows up on a pig farm. An internet pornographer
is killed. A politicial battle is fought over legalisation of prostitution.
These ingredients are enough to keep Mulligan very busy. Add to that
some vigilante killings on pedophiles, a new love interest, and a
gangster boss interested in hiring Mulligan and you end up with a
very exciting crime novel.
What makes this novel so great is not just the many interesting
plot lines however, but the character of Mulligan and the sharp writing.
Mulligan is such a great self-deprecating character and the writing
such an effective continuation of Chandler and Parker's hardboiled
voices this should be textbook writing for anyone attempting to write
a hardboiled crime story.
It worried me that the paper Mulligan works for is going through some bad times,
endangering his job. Luckily, it seems there's enough people interested in Mulligan's
investigation skills to keep him busy even if he ends up sacked. I wouldn't want
to miss this guy, his troubles with his ex-wife, his clumsiness, his interest
in crime fiction and his attitude. Looking forward to the third in the series!"
-- Sons of Spade website.
The Associated Press Raves about Cliff Walk's Masterful Style
"In his Edgar Award-winning first novel, Rogue Island, published in 2010, retired
AP writing coach Bruce DeSilva introduced readers to the affable Liam Mulligan,
a crime-solving Rhode Island metro reporter for the fictional Providence Dispatch.
Mulligan, an old-school newspaperman with a taste for whiskey, cigars and irreverent
humor, returns in the chilling murder mystery Cliff Walk, whose sometimes violent
plot is tempered by the hero's wry observations on print journalism's seemingly
Recent staff consolidation and cutbacks have forced Mulligan to churn out light
stories on topics such as high-society parties. But a charity gala in posh Newport
turns into real news when a guest is murdered atop the rocky Cliff Walk separating
the area's Gilded Age mansions from the sea. Police believe the victim to be
Sal Maniella, a millionaire pornographer and strip-club owner, but mysteries
abound as none of Maniella's friends or family will consent to identify the body.”
Mulligan teams up with Maniella's beautiful, brainy female attorney to unravel
the case, whose scope widens to include prostitution, child abuse, multiple homicides
and an enduring vendetta. Along the way, he receives help from a colorful cast
of supporting characters, including a no-nonsense state attorney general nicknamed "Attila
the Nun," loosely modeled on real-life Rhode Island politician Arlene Violet,
who left the Sisters of Mercy religious order to pursue public office.
Despite the book's sexually charged situations and graphic crime-scene descriptions,
DeSilva's masterful narrative style ensures that any shocking details remain
firmly in service of the plot, and the tone never turns exploitative. You can
count on the brilliant Mulligan to reappear in the next installment of this outstanding
series from DeSilva, but be prepared for changes. When Mulligan learns that bookmakers
are taking bets on how long the Dispatch will remain in business, he begins to
consider a tempting job offer — from a private detective agency."
-- Jonathan Lopez for Associated Press
"One of the reasons to write a novel is to attack all the things that drive you
crazy; another is to celebrate the things you love. Bruce DeSilva's second mystery
novel, Cliff Walk, does both. He attacks child molesters, pornographers, sex
pedlars, corrupt politicians, drug dealers, prostitution, and the stupid owners
of newspapers who are destroying journalism. He celebrates Rhode Island, corruption
at all levels of government and society, weirdos of every kind, deep-digging
newspaper reporters, and his wife, the poet Patricia Smith. With two menus like
that, you get an over-the-top story populated by rich characters with wonderful
names: Dominic "Whoosh" Zerilli, Raymond L. S. Patriarca, Bobo Marrapese,
Pro Lerner, Frank Salemme, Dickie Callei, Red Kelly, Jackie Nazarian, Rudy Sciarra,
Blackjack Baldelli, Knuckles Grieco, etc., many of them, I suspect, real. The
plot involves the murder at a snazzy party on the Newport Cliff Walk of a prominent
sex merchant, and weaves through the bottom feeders and top feeders of Rhode
Island, toward a surprise ending. DeSilva's prose crackles with unexpected sentences: "Seagulls
had strafed with building again overnight, continuing their war of turds with
the current administration," or "the water is sometimes streaked with
sewage, and quahogs angry with coliform bacteria pave the mucky bottom." Beginning
journalists could learn three primers worth of investigative techniques from
the hero's adventures and misadventures. If you like swagger, you'll love this
-- Don Fry, prominent writing coach
"With his wildly anarchic humor, his unswerving moral compass, and his fearless
determination to reveal the truth about child pornography and religiosity in
21st-century America, Bruce DeSilva's Liam Mulligan is the most human, unpredictable,
and anti-authoritarian fictional character I've met since Ranger Gus McCrae of
Lonesome Dove. I love DeSilva's Cliff Walk. Mulligan is my new American hero."
-- Howard Frank Mosher, critically-acclaimed author of On Kingdom Mountain and
Waiting for Teddy Williams.
"Cliff Walk, Bruce DeSilva’s sequel to his Edgar Award-winning first
novel, is even better--both a riveting hard-boiled murder mystery and a serious
at the thriving sex trade in the tiny state of Rhode Island. The story is by
turns chilling and hilarious, the characters and sense of place are authentic,
and the writing displays a master’s understanding of the genre."
-- David Morrell, New York Times bestselling author and the creator of Rambo.
"Cliff Walk is the first book I've read by Edgar and Macavity Award-winning author,
Bruce DeSilva. It won't be the last. DeSilva combines a smooth plot, engaging
characters, an eye for description and an ear for cool snappy dialogue. Reminiscent
of Robert B Parker at his best. Excellent stuff."
-- thriller writer Zoe Sharp
"Cliff Walk is as dead-on realistic as contemporary crime fiction ever gets,
and the dialogue is as good as any I've ever read. Bruce DeSilva may not get
and famous writing this stuff --- but he should."
-- Shamus and Anthony Award-winning crime novelist Gar Anthony Haywood.
Cliff Walk, by Bruce DeSilva
The opening chapters:
Cosmo Scalici hollered over the grunts and squeals of three thousand
hogs rooting in his muddy outdoor pens. “Right here’s
where I found it, poking outta this pile of garbage. Gave me the
creeps, the way the fingers curled like it wanted me to come closer.”
What did you do?” I hollered back.
Jumped the fence and tried to snatch it, but one of the sows beat
me to it.”
“Couldn’t get it away from her?”
You shittin’ me? Ever try to wrestle lunch from a six-hundred-pound hog?
I whacked her on the snout with a shovel my guys use to muck the pens. She didn’t
To mask the stink, we puffed on cigars, his a Royal Jamaica, mine a Cohiba.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” he said. “The nails were painted pink,
and it was so small. The little girl that arm came from couldn’ta been
more than nine years old. The sow just wolfed it down. You could hear the bones
crunch in her teeth.”
Where’s the hog now, Cosmo?”
State cops shot her in the head, loaded her in a van, and took off. Said they
was gonna open her stomach, see what’s left of the evidence. I told ’em,
that’s two hundred and fifty bucks’ worth of chops and bacon wholesale,
so you damn well better send me a check ’less you want me to sue your ass.”
Any other body parts turn up?”
The cops spent a couple hours raking through the garbage. Didn’t find nothin’.
If there was any more, it’s all pig shit by now.”
We kept smoking as we slopped across his twelve acres to the sprawling white
farmhouse with green shutters where I’d left my car. Once this was woodland
and meadow, typical of the countryside in the little town of Pascoag in Rhode
Island’s sleepy northwest corner. But Cosmo had bulldozed his whole place
into an ugly mess of stumps, mud, and stones.
How do you suppose the arm got here?” I asked.
The staties kept asking the same question, like I’m supposed to fuckin’ know.”
He scowled as I scrawled the quote in my reporter’s notebook.
Look, Mulligan,” he said. “My company? Scalici Recycling? It’s
a three-mil-a-year operation. My twelve trucks collect garbage from schools,
jails, and restaurants all over Rhode Island. That arm coulda been tossed in
a Dumpster anywhere between Woonsocket and Westerly.”
I knew it was true. Scalici Recycling was a fancy name for a company that picked
up garbage so pigs could reprocess it into bacon, but there was big money in
it. I’d written about the operation five years ago when the Mafia tried
to muscle in. Cosmo drilled one hired thug through the temple with a bolt gun
used to slaughter livestock and put another in a coma with his ham-sized fists.
He called it trash removal. The cops called it self-defense.
I’d parked my heap beside his new Ford pickup. Mine had a New England Patriots
decal on the rear window. His had a bumper sticker that said: “If You Don’t
Like Manure, Move to the City.”
Getting along any better with the folks around here?” I asked as I jerked
open my car door.
Nah. They’re still whining about the smell. Still complaining about the
noise from the garbage trucks. That guy over there?” he said, pointing
at a raised ranch across the road. “He’s a real asshole. That one
down there? Total jerk. This whole area’s zoned agricultural. They build
their houses out here and want to pretend they’re in fuckin’ Newport?
Fuck them and the minivans they rode in on.”
A prowl car slipped behind me on America’s Cup Avenue, and when I swung
onto Thames Street, it hugged my bumper. A left turn onto Prospect Hill
didn’t shake it, so when I reached the red octagonal sign at the corner
of Bellevue Avenue, I broke with local custom and came to a complete stop. Then
I turned left, and the red flashers lit me up.
I rolled down the window and watched in the side mirror as a Newport city cop
unfolded himself from the cruiser and swaggered toward me, the heels of his boots
clicking on the pavement, his leather gun belt creaking. I shoved the paperwork
at him before he asked for it. He snatched it without a word, walked back to
the cruiser, and ran my license and registration. I listened in on my police
scanner and was relieved to learn that my Rhode Island driver’s license
was valid and that the heap I’d been driving for years had not been reported
I heard the gun belt creak again, and the cop, whose name tag identified him
as Officer Phelps, was back, handing my paperwork through the window.
May I ask what business you have in this neighborhood tonight, Mr. Mulligan?”
Ordinarily, I don’t pick fights with lawmen packing high-powered sidearms.
Anyone who’d covered cops and robbers as long as I had could recognize
the .357 SIG Sauer on Officer Phelps’s hip. But he’d had no legitimate
reason to pull me over.
“Have you been drinking tonight, sir?”
May I have permission to search your vehicle?”
Officer Phelps dropped his right hand to the butt of his pistol and gave me a
Please step out of the car, sir.”
I did, affording him the opportunity to admire how fine I looked in a black Ralph
Lauren tuxedo. He hesitated a moment, wondering if I might actually be somebody;
but tuxedos can be rented, and a somebody would have had better wheels. I put
my palms against the side of the car and assumed the position. He patted me down,
sighing when he failed to turn up a crack pipe, lock picks, or a gravity knife.
When he was done, he wrote me up for running the sign I’d stopped at and
admonished me to drive carefully. I was lucky he didn’t shoot me. In this
part of Newport, driving a car worth less than eighty thousand dollars was a
I fired the ignition and rolled past the marble-and-terra-cotta dreams of nineteenth-century
robber barons: The Breakers, Marble House, Rosecliff, Kingscote, The Elms, Hunter
House, Beechwood, Ochre Court, Chepstow, Chateau-sur-Mer. And my favorite, Clarendon
Court, where Claus von Bülow either did or did not try to murder his heiress
wife by injecting her with insulin, depending on whether you believe the first
jury or the second. Here, sculpted cherubs frolic in formal gardens. Greek gods
cling to gilded cornices and peer across the Atlantic Ocean. Massive oak doors
open at a touch, and vast dining rooms rise to frescoed ceilings. A few of these
shrines to hubris and bad taste have been turned into museums, but the rest remain
among the most exclusive addresses in the world, just as they have been for more
than a hundred years.
Men who ripped fortunes from the grasps of competitors built the Newport mansions.
Cornelius Vanderbilt, who stitched the face of America with rails and ties. Big
Jim Fair, who dug silver out of Nevada’s Comstock Lode. Edward J.
Berwind, who fueled American industry with Appalachian coal. They were doers,
and they built these forty-, sixty-, and eighty-room monstrosities as retreats,
playgrounds, and monuments to themselves.
But that was generations ago. Today, those who live in the mansions are
scions of the doers, living on somebody else’s money in somebody else’s
dream. They try to keep the Gilded Age alive in a blaze of crystal chandeliers,
the scent of lilies drifting over elegantly attired dinner guests. And they
keep the likes of me out with ivy-covered walls, hand-wrought iron gates, and
a vigilant local constabulary.
Except tonight. Tonight, I had an invitation.
Just past Beechwood, the Astors’ Italianate summer cottage, I slid behind
a shimmering silver Porsche in a line of cars drifting toward the gilded iron
gate to the grounds of Belcourt Castle. One by one, they turned into the
torch-lit, crushed-stone drive: a Maserati, a Bentley, a Ferrari, a Lamborghini,
a Maybach, another Bentley, and something sleek that may have been a Bugatti,
although I’d never seen one before. Trailing them was a poverty-stricken
sad sack in a mere Mercedes-Benz. I wondered if Officer Phelps had hassled
Up ahead, liveried valets opened car doors, grasped bejeweled hands to help ladies
from their fairy-tale carriages, climbed in, and floated away to distant parking
lots. Then a nine-year-old Bronco with rust pocks on the hood, a crushed passenger-side
fender, and a diseased muffler rumbled up, and I got out.
Be careful with it this time,” I said as I flipped the keys to a valet. “Look
what happened the last time you parked it.”
I strolled through the courtyard to a heavy oak door where an Emperor Penguin
with a clipboard was checking the guest list. He studied my engraved invitation
Surely you are not Mrs. Emma Shaw of the Providence Dispatch.”
What gave me away?”
“Do this job as long as I have,” he said, “and you develop
a sixth sense about this sort of thing.” He looked me up and down. “I
can see that your eyebrows haven’t been plucked lately.” He paused
to rub his chin with his big left wing. “And your perfume is a little off.
The last dame to walk through here was wearing Shalimar. You smell like Eau d’Cigars.”
“You don’t know any women who smoke cigars?”
Not the kind made out of tobacco,” he said. From his snicker, I could tell
he took special pride in that one. “I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t
“Oh yeah? Well, this isn’t the only mansion in town, buster.” I
turned away to retrieve Secretariat, my pet name for the Bronco.
I’d drawn the assignment to cover the annual Derby Ball after Emma, our
society reporter, quit last week, taking a buyout that trimmed thirty more jobs
from a newsroom already cut to the marrow by last year’s layoffs. Ed Lomax,
the city editor, had pretended he was doing me a favor.
I can guarantee you the cover of the ‘Living’ section,” he
Let me get this straight,” I said. “We can no longer afford to have
our baseball writer travel with the Red Sox. We don’t have a medical writer
or a religion writer anymore. Our Washington bureau is down to one reporter.
And this is a priority?”
The ball is the final event of the week-long Newport Jumping Derby,” he
said. “It’s one of the biggest hoity-toity events of the year.”
So they say, but who gives a shit?”
Other than the horses?”
I’m a little busy with real stories right now, boss. I’m trolling
through the governor’s campaign contribution list to figure out who’s
buying him off this year. I’m looking into the toxic waste dumping in Briggs
Marsh. And I’m still trying to figure out how that little girl’s
arm ended up as pig food last week.”
Look, Mulligan. Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do. It’s
part of being a professional.”
And I have to do this particular thing because . . . ?”
Because the publisher’s seventeen-year-old niece is one of the equestrians.”
But if I couldn’t get in, I couldn’t be blamed for not covering it.
Lomax didn’t need to hear how readily I took no for an answer. I’d
almost made it out of the courtyard when I heard high heels clicking behind me
and a woman’s voice calling my name. I quickened my pace. I was asking
a valet where I could find my car when the high heels clattered to a stop beside
me and their owner, a tiny middle-aged woman who’d had one face-lift too
many, took me by the arm.
I am so sorry for the confusion, Mr. Mulligan. Your Mr. Lomax called to say you
would be taking Mrs. Shaw’s place, and I neglected to amend the guest list.”
And you are . . . ?”
Hillary Proctor, but you can call me ‘Hill.’ I’m the publicity
director for the Derby, and I am honored that you are joining us this evening.
I do hope my lapse hasn’t caused you any embarrassment.”
Look, Hill,” I said as she escorted me past the shrugging penguin and into
the mansion’s antechamber, “I’m supposed to write about the
important people who are here and describe what they are wearing, but I can’t
tell the difference between a Vanderbilt draped in a Paris original and a trailer
park queen dressed by J. C. Penney.”
Of course you can’t. You’re the young man who writes about mobsters
and crooked politicians. I love your work, darling.”
So you’re the one,” I said.
Oh, I do love a man with a sense of humor. How would you like to be my escort
for the evening? I’ll whisper the names of the worthies and what they are
wearing in your ear, and the gossips will be all atwitter about the mysterious
man on my arm.”
That’s a very gracious offer, Hill, but I like to work alone. Do you think
you could just jot everything down while I wander around and soak up a little
“Certainly,” she said, not looking the least bit disappointed.
I handed her my notebook, strolled across the antechamber, and stepped into a
huge dining room with a mosaic pink marble floor and a wall of stained glass
windows that bristled with Christian iconography. Men in tuxedos and women in
ball gowns were loading china plates with shrimp, roast beef, and several dishes
I couldn’t identify, all of it tastefully displayed on a sixteen-foot-long
walnut trestle table. The room was illuminated by nine crystal chandeliers. The
grande dame who owned the house liked to boast that the largest of them had once
graced the parlor of an eighteenth-century Russian count. The hunky plumber she
had impetuously married and then divorced tattled that it had actually been scavenged
from a dilapidated movie house in Worcester, Mass. I made a mental note to include
that tidbit of Newport lore in my story.
The Dispatch’s ethics policy prohibited reporters from accepting freebies,
but the roast beef looked too good to pass up. I scarfed some down and then followed
the sound of music up a winding oak staircase to the second floor. There, four
chandeliers blazed from a vaulted cream-colored ceiling that arched thirty feet
above a parquet ballroom floor. A fireplace, its limestone-and-marble chimneypiece
carved to resemble a French château, commanded one end of the room. The
hearth was big enough to roast a stegosaurus or cremate the New England Patriots’ offensive
line. At the other end of the room, a band I wasn’t hip enough to recognize
played hip-hop music I wasn’t tone-deaf enough to like.
I snatched a flute of champagne from a circulating waiter and circumnavigated
the dance floor, spotting the mayors of Newport, Providence, New Haven, and Boston;
the governors of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, Kentucky, and New Jersey;
one of Rhode Island’s U.S. senators; both of its congressmen; three bank
presidents; four Brown University deans; twelve captains of industry; two Kennedys;
a Bush; and a herd of athletic-looking young women.
I found a spot against the wall between a couple of suits of armor and watched
the mayor of Boston try to dance the Soulja Boy with a teenage girl whose last
name might have been Du Pont or Firestone. When a waiter glided by, I nabbed
another flute, but it just made me thirsty for a Killian’s at the White
Horse Tavern. After observing the festivities for a half hour, I figured I’d
I was looking for Hill so I could retrieve my notebook when I spotted Salvatore
Maniella. He was leaning against a corner of the huge chimneypiece, as out of
place as Mel Gibson at a seder. What was a creep like him doing at a swanky event
like this? I was still lurking a few minutes later when our governor strolled
up and tapped him on the shoulder. They crossed the ballroom together and slipped
into a room behind the bandstand. I gave them twenty seconds and then followed.
Through the half-open door I could make out red flock wallpaper, a G clef design
in gold leaf on the ceiling, and a grand piano—the mansion’s music
room, which the current owner had proudly restored to its original garishness.
Maniella and the governor had the room to themselves, but they stood close, whispering
conspiratorially in each other’s ears. After a moment, they grinned and
I slipped away as they turned toward the door.