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A scourge of Vipers, by Bruce DeSilva
“Bruce DeSilva writes a story in the tradition of Hammett and Higgins, and he writes it with the knowledge of an old-time police reporter. DeSilva knows cops, corruption in eastern cities, wiseguys, rounders, bounders, gamblers, and midnight ramblers. He writes with authority about the issues of our times, and he does it with honesty and candor. If you want a hardboiled view of how a city actually works, this is your book.” – Mystery Writers of America Grand Master James Lee Burke.

To solve Rhode Island’s budget crisis, the governor wants to legalize sports gambling, but her plan has unexpected consequences. Organized crime, professional sports leagues, and others who have a lot to lose—or gain—if gambling is made legal flood the state with money to buy the votes of state legislators. Liam Mulligan, investigative reporter for The Providence Dispatch, wants to investigate, but the bottom-feeding corporate bosses at the dying newspaper have no interest in serious reporting. So Mulligan goes rogue to dig into the story. But when a state legislator turns up dead, an out-of-state bagman gets shot, and his cash-stuffed briefcase goes missing, Mulligan finds himself the target of shadowy forces who seek to derail his investigation by destroying his career, his reputation, and even his life. A Scourge of Vipers, the fourth novel in the Edgar Award-winning Mulligan series, is at once a suspenseful crime thriller and a serious exploration of the hypocrisy surrounding sports gambling and the corrupting influence of big money on politics.


"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.”

-- Suspense Magazine.


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 melodrama.."

-- 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 crime novels.


A Scourge of Vipers has made me an instant Bruce DeSilva fan. In the tradition of the great noir protagonists, Liam Mulligan is 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."

New 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 website.

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 scent.

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 me to 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?”

“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.”

“I'm not.”

“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 cottage on Sanibel Island or a luxury condo in Fort Myers.”

“Where the Sox have spring training? I already thought of that. Trouble is, ain’t no way I can hand the business over to Mario.”

“Why not?”

“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 own.

“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 to himself.”

“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. Keep half of the profits, and wire the rest once a month to an account I got down in the Caymans.”

“Got somebody in mind?”

“Yeah. You.”


“Why not? You been tellin’ me how much you hate the corporate pricks who 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.

“Not yet.”

“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 don’t, so what’s to complain about?”

“He’ll make trouble,” I said, “unless you can buy him off with something else.”

“Already on it. I been introducin’ him to another line of work.”


“Somethin’ that don’t require a remedial course in junior high math. __ 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 this:
“You Mulligan?”

“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 at Hopes Friday night?”

“What?__ No.”

“Cuz you’re welcome to her,” I said. “She’s a poor conversationalist, 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 inconvenience?”

“I’m talkin’ about my uncle’s racket, you dumb fuck. You better 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 my future you're fuckin’ with.”

“Your future? Really? Punks who drive drunk, beat up women, and pull guns on city streets usually don’t have one.”

I don’t know what you got on Uncle Whoosh, but I’m warning you. Get 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.

Also from Bruce DeSilva

Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva “I can't believe this is a debut -- DeSilva writes with a master's understanding of the genre. The dialogue is spot on, the humor is wry, and the world is gritty enough that I still have dirt under my fingernails. Rogue Island is a winner.”

-- Marcus Sakey, bestselling author of The Amateurs.
  Cliff Walk by Bruce DeSilva “Bruce DeSilva accomplishes something remarkable: He takes everything we love about the classic hardboiled detective novel and turns it into a story that's fresh, contemporary, yet timeless.”

-- Joseph Finder, New York Times best-selling author of Vanished and Buried Secrets.
Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva “Bruce DeSilva writes a story in the tradition of Hammett and Higgins, and he writes it with the knowledge of an old-time police reporter. DeSilva knows cops, corruption in eastern cities, wiseguys, rounders, bounders, gamblers, and midnight ramblers. He writes with authority about the issues of our times, and he does it with honesty and candor. If you want a hardboiled view of how a city actually works, this is your book.”

– Mystery Writers of America Grand Master James Lee Burke.
  THe Dread Line, by Bruce DeSilva "The best yet in one of my favorite series ever -- fast and funny, yet it packs a serious punch. This is hardboiled crime fiction at its best."

-- Steve Hamilton, two-time Edgar Award-winning author of "The Second Life of Nick Mason."