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PROVIDENCE RAG by Bruce DeSilva: Book Review

Times are tough in Little Rhody, one of the nicknames for the smallest state in the United States. The economy is down, Liam Mulligan’s job at the Providence Dispatch is threatened by the possible sale of the newspaper, and there’s a killer in the capital city.

There’s no apparent motive for the murders of a young single mother and her daughter although the killer left behind plenty of clues, including a smear of blood and a print of his forehead on a window. Then, two years later, another woman is found murdered along with her two young daughters. This time the killer left his prints on a windowsill and on the medicine cabinet. In both cases the victims had been slashed repeatedly with a knife. The prints in both cases match each other, but they don’t match anything in the system.

The pattern of entrance and murders in both cases is nearly identical, and FBI profiler Peter Schutter has decided that the killer is a white male in his twenties. But Liam becomes suspicious of a black teenager, Kwame Diggs, who lives close to where the victims lived. When he shares his thoughts with the profiler, Schutter tells him to forget it. “No way this kid’s your killer. Don’t waste your time on him,” Schutter says to Liam. The federal agent is convinced that the official profile is accurate.

But Liam is not so sure. Another reason Schutter dismisses Kwame is because he was only thirteen when the first murder was committed, but to Liam this is another factor in favor of Kwame’s guilt. The shoe size prints in the first murder were size eleven and in the second murder were size twelve. To Liam this means that the killer was still growing, thus adding to the possibility of a young, still developing, male rather than a fully-grown twenty-someone. When he revisits Kwame and questions him, Kwame says that he takes a size ten shoe, but Liam can see for himself that that’s false, as the teenager’s shoe is slightly larger than Liam’s own size eleven. The police arrest Kwame for the murders, and he’s convicted. But the law has given Kwame a way out of what would ordinarily be a life sentence.

The action that propels the book is a law that was on the Rhode Island books that if a juvenile commits a crime, regardless of the severity of the crime, he must be released from custody upon reaching the age of twenty-one. Although the authorities have been able to hold Kwame in prison for several more years due to some possibly illegal actions on the state’s part, he is now about to be released, causing protests from frightened citizens that are leading up to the governor’s door. And the governor is a long-time friend of Liam’s with her own popularity at stake.

The supporting characters in Providence Rag are vivid and compelling. There’s Kwame’s widowed mother, Esther Diggs, who cannot bring herself to believe that her son is guilty despite his confession; Iggy Rock, a right-wing radio personality who is leading marchers to protest Kwame’s upcoming release; Gloria Costa, Liam’s colleague on the Dispatch, trying to overcome her fears after fleeing from an attempted rape; Edward Anthony Mason III, also called Thanks-Dad by Liam, sixth generation of the publishing family that owns the Dispatch; and Felicia Fryer, Kwame’s new attorney who is convinced that the authorities have kept her client in jail for years after his original release date by perjured testimony from prison guards.

This novel is the third in the Liam Mulligan series; the first one, Rogue Island, won the Edgar and Macavity awards. Look for more kudos for Providence Rag.

Bruce DeSilva has been a journalist, a writing coach, and a college professor, all roads leading to the Liam Mulligan books. You can read more about him at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.


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