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ROGUE ISLAND by Bruce DeSilva: Book Review

“Dear Bruce, MALICE is a nice little story.  In fact, it could serve as the outline for a novel.  Have you considered this?”

Imagine receiving such positive feedback for a short story you wrote.  Now imagine receiving that note from Evan Hunter, a/k/a Ed McBain, author of the 87th Precinct mysteries.  Of course you would have no choice but to write that novel.

Well, it took Bruce DeSilva more than twenty years to do that, but the result is Rogue Island.  It’s worth the wait.

Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the United States based on area, but apparently it’s quite large in terms of corruption, political chicanery, active mob bosses, and the like. Liam Mulligan, who answers only to his last name, is a reporter for a Providence paper which is quickly shrinking the size of its staff due to lowered circulation.  But Mulligan is a newspaperman through and through, and even though he’s worried about his job, he’s more worried about the rash of fires plaguing his old neighborhood, Mount Hope.  As the book opens the fires have destroyed unoccupied buildings only, but soon things take a turn for the worse as two squatters are killed in an abandoned house in the neighborhood.

Arson seems the only explanation, but Mulligan can’t figure out a reason.  Some of the house are vacant, some are occupied, and at least five different companies are the insurers.  There doesn’t appear to be a reason for anyone to want Mount Hope aflame.

Polecki and Roselli, the city’s inept arson investigators, aren’t making any progress.  Called “Dumb and Dumber” by insurance investigators, their animosity toward Mulligan seems to be more important to them than looking into the causes of the fires.

Mulligan’s personal and professional lives are messy. He’s romantically involved with Veronica Tang, a reporter on the newspaper, but he’s being stalked via his cell phone by his soon-to-be ex-wife.  At work he’s been saddled with the son of the newspaper’s publisher, a recent Columbia J-School grad who needs a mentor.  And his editor keeps assigning him fluff pieces instead of letting him work on the arson case.  Doggie stories, anyone?

Then comes the night when five fires on four streets are set simultaneously. That makes it less certain that a pyromaniac is setting the fires, as there’s no way he could watch them all at the same time.  But where does that leave the investigation?

Bruce DeSilva’s first mystery is utterly absorbing. After forty-one years as an investigative journalist, part of that on the Providence Journal, his prose is tight and honed.  There’s not an extra line in the book.  His characters are believable, whether they’re good or bad.  And when the good characters got hurt or worse in the story, I felt a rush of sympathy as if they were real people.

Publishers Weekly named Rogue Island as one of the top ten first mysteries of 2010, and it won an Edgar for best first novel of the year.

You can read more about Bruce DeSilva and watch an interview with him at his web site,

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