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Posts Tagged ‘Rhode Island’

FOGLAND POINT by Doug Burgess: Book Review

David Hazard is one of only a handful of transgender protagonists in the mystery genre, at least to my knowledge.  A native of Little Compton, Rhode Island, he has just been fired as an assistant professor at Xavier College because the school’s authorities have discovered his sexual identity.

Born as Rosalie Hazard, even as a child David felt he was in the wrong body, and when he was able to do so he began the surgeries and medical procedures to change his female body into a male’s.  He’s happy about that, but he doesn’t fool himself into believing that he will be able to obtain another teaching position easily.  Thus, without a salary, his only option is to return to his childhood home and to the problems that await him there.

The main problem is that his grandmother, Maggie, is slipping away from the world due to dementia.  From moment to moment her mind wanders from past to present, not recognizing her grandson one minute and knowing who he is the next.

It’s not surprising, then, that when David receives a phone call from Maggie to say that she’s found a dead body with blood all around it, he assumes it’s a symptom of her disordered mind.  When he drives to her house and finds nothing out of place, that seems to confirm it.  But when he goes next door to see his “Aunt” Emma, who has taken on a major role in caring for Maggie, there is Emma’s body on the kitchen floor, just as his grandmother had said.

At first it appears that her death is due to a tragic accident that might well happen to an elderly woman while she was in her kitchen–a heavy pot falls from a shelf, lands on her head, and cracks her skull.  But Billy Dyer, the small town’s chief of police, doesn’t buy that.  He thinks someone stood over Emma and deliberately brought the pot down on her.  Then whoever it was pulled the rest of the pots from the shelf to make it appear an accident.

Little by little old secrets are revealed.  There’s the matter of the three million dollar legacy that Emma left to an Arabella Johnson, who turns out to be the daughter no one knew Emma had.  There’s the story of Teddy Johnson, Emma’s fiancé, who was drafted and went off to Korea and never returned.  There’s the mysterious couple who arrived in Little Compton shortly before Emma’s death and stood, according to the town’s mourners, much too close to the casket than was proper for outsiders.  Little Compton is a bastion of Yankeeness (a word I just coined).

Doug Burgess has written an outstanding first novel.  His characters are realistic, his plot tight, and his dialogue rings true.  And, in David Hazard, he has created an appealing protagonist who, I hope, will be featured in other mysteries.

You can read more about Doug Burgess at this site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

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,