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by Bruce DeSilva
Forge, March 2014
351 pages
ISBN: 0765374293

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

According to veteran investigative reporter Liam Mulligan, "Kwame Diggs is a serial killer. Every night for the last eighteen years, he's been lying in his prison bunk, fantasizing about stabbing women and children to death." Under state law, Diggs, who was convicted of the brutal murders of two women and three children when he was a teenager, should have been released from prison when he turned 21. Eighteen years later, he's still housed in Rhode Island's maximum security prison. No one besides Diggs, his mother, and Diggs' attorney seems the least bit concerned that his continued detention is based on a series of trumped-up charges contrived by the state to ensure that Diggs stays locked up. Enter Mulligan's protege, Edward Anthony Mason, III, heir-apparent to the Providence Dispatch publisher, who believes "that public officials are supposed to uphold the law, not break it."

When we know public officials are corrupting the criminal justice system, is it not our job to do something about it? If we don't, the First Amendment is just words on paper.

Diggs is indisputably guilty, and it is absolutely clear that he plans to kill again if he is released from prison. Although Diggs is an African-American who murdered blonde white women and their children, it is equally clear that race is not a factor in the state's determination that Diggs must remain incarcerated. Mulligan understands this and has not been uncomfortable with the status quo until Mason's fervor reminds him that "the first obligation of a journalist is to tell the truth." It's a classic dilemma with no obvious right answer that keeps the reader engaged from the first to the last page of this fast-paced novel.

PROVIDENCE RAG is the third book in DeSilva's series featuring Liam Mulligan, but a reader unfamiliar with the series shouldn't hesitate to dive right in. The author deftly interweaves details of old murder investigations that took place during an era when the daily paper was a mainstay of every community with a present-day world of bankrupt local governments and failing newspapers. The details involved in publishing a daily print newspaper and developing an investigative article are interesting and well-drawn. The characters are rich and three-dimensional and include strong women, and the book raises a number of questions: What happens when journalistic ethics become replaced by social media hacks? Can abuse of power by public officials be justified when purportedly motivated by desire to protect the community? Is telling the truth always the best decision? Altogether PROVIDENCE RAG is a masterfully told story that is entertaining and makes one think. What more could a reader ask?

P.D. Crumbaker lives in Tallahassee, Florida, where she works as an editor for a legal publication.

Reviewed by P.D. Crumbaker, March 2014

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