Recent Work By Bruce DeSilva

In 1980, prostitution inadvertently became legal in Rhode Island, the consequence of one of those boneheaded foul-ups for which the Ocean State’s legislature, the General Assembly, is justly famous. The state’s politicians made a lot of speeches decrying the shame of it, but for 29 years, they didn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t help but wonder why.

A few months after Robert B. Parker died of a heart attack at his writing desk in January of 2010, his publisher, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, approached Ace Atkins with a proposition. Parker’s family wanted Spenser, one of the most iconic private detectives in crime fiction history, to live on; and they were searching for the right writer to continue the series. Would Ace like to audition for the role by sending in 50 sample pages?

This was not an offer to be taken lightly.

It has been two years since Hope—Jack and Jenna Tanner’s bright and beautiful only child—walked out of her apartment door at the University of Wisconsin and vanished into the night.

Since then, Jenna’s grief has led to madness. She is confined now in a psychiatric hospital. Jack has been unable to concentrate on business. He has lost his job as a tax attorney at the largest law firm in Minneapolis.

Meanwhile, Slater Babcock, Hope’s college boyfriend and the only suspect in her disappearance, is enjoying the decadent life of a rich man’s spoiled son in sunny Key West.

Recently, I have been struck by how misinformed many Americans are about their Constitutional rights. The debate over the new federal rule requiring most employers, including religious-affiliated ones, to provide free contraceptive care to employees has brought this into sharp focus.

When weathermen in Arizona started calling the region’s huge, recent sandstorms haboobs, they got hate mail. People were “insulted,” by the term, demanded that weathermen explain “what gave them the right” to use it, and asked: “how do you think our soldiers feel?”

The fact is, haboob is a perfectly good English word. It’s in your dictionary. It is of Arabic origin however, and therein lies reason for the objections.

Aside from the ridiculous xenophobia this represents, it also indicates complete ignorance about how the English language works.

English is composed largely of words that were borrowed from other languages. Much of our vocabulary is of French or German origin, but English has borrowed words from virtually every language on Earth. A few representative examples:

Finnish (sauna).

Tagalog (boondocks).

Bantu (banjo).

Mandinka (jazz).

Mikmaq (caribou).

Australian Aboriginal (dingo).

Afrikans (trek).

Chinese (tea).

Czech (robot).

Etrucan (arena).

Hawaiian (taboo).

Urdu (bandanna).

Malay (amok).

Tamil (conundrum).

Arawakan (barbecue).

And on and on it goes.

This is part of the genius of English – the reason why it is arguably the most expressive language on Earth. Thanks to many centuries of borrowings, it contains more words than any other language – nearly twice as many as French or German. How many English words are there? Roughly 800,000, counting technical terms; but an exact count is impossible because new words enter the language, both from borrowings and coinings, almost every day.

And. of course, lots and lots of everyday words have been borrowed from Arabic. Off the top of my head, here are a few. Let’s see if the idiots who object to “haboobs” can do without:
































And zero.

In fact, the very concept of zero originated with Arabic mathematicians. Perhaps the yahoos would like to ban it from our arithmetic.


Forget Johnnie Cochran, F. Lee Bailey and Gerry Spence. The greatest trial lawyer in American history was the incomparable Clarence Darrow.

For that matter, forget Perry Mason, Matlock and Atticus Finch, too, because Darrow was also our greatest fictional trial lawyer.

Gregory McDonald has been dead for less than three years, yet already he seems in danger of being forgotten. A Google search turns up no recent chatter about his novels, and very little since his productive life as a writer came to an end in the late 1990s.

Aside from occasional late-night cable screenings of Fletch, a 1985 Universal Pictures movie starring Chevy Chase, McDonald’s most intriguing character also seems to be fading from American popular culture.

That’s a damn shame because McDonald was a gifted storyteller who peopled his crisply-written, very funny mysteries with irresistibly quirky characters. And behind the humor, he had some serious things to say about a host of American institutions from organized religion to the press.

Twenty-six years ago, long before I’d written my first crime novel, I had a long conversation with the great Robert B. Parker and got an earful about how it’s done.

I thought a lot about that conversation last night after I devoured a review copy of Sixkill, Parker’s final novel featuring Spenser, his Boston-based private eye—final because Parker is gone now, found dead at his writing desk in January of 2010.

He was 77 years old when he died; but when I met him he was 52, with a round face, a potato nose, slits for eyes, and a boys-regular haircut. He had a soft beer belly, but his chest and arms were hard muscle. I took all of that in as he opened the door of his Cambridge, Mass., condominium, looked me over, and grunted: “Oh my God! It’s the press!”

The questions I’m asked most often about my new crime novel, Rogue Island, are: “How long did it take to write?” and “How did you find a publisher?”

“That figures,” a friend quipped.“Nobody wants to read a book anymore, but everybody wants to get published.”

A contributor to Goodreads, one of those websites where people comment on the books they’ve read, was baffled by The Last Talk with Lola Faye, the latest literary crime novel by Thomas H. Cook.

“I did not understand the point,” she said. “Who did it? I’m so lost!”

Crime Dog

By Bruce DeSilva


Say Hello to Brady.  He’s a pure-bred Bernese Mountain Dog, and he turns one year old this week. When we got him, he was eight weeks old and about the size of a loaf of pumpernickel. Now he’s a hundred and ten pounds and still growing.

From the moment I laid eyes on him, he had my heart. And now he’s sneaked into the crime novel I’m writing.

It happened when my protagonist, an investigative reporter named Mulligan, was trying to figure out how to introduce himself to Peggy, a perky young secretary who works for a guy Mulligan thinks is up to no good. As a former investigative reporter myself, I knew that when you can’t get the goods on someone the easy way–from the cops or from documents–the best sources of information are ex-wives and disgruntled employees. Mulligan didn’t know if Peggy was disgruntled, but he was determined to find out.

So he was hanging around outside her apartment building in Providence, R.I. one afternoon, trying to decide what to say when he knocked on her door. Suddenly the door swung open and out stepped Peggy with a dog on a leash. At first, it was a small dog, so Mulligan bent down to pet it. Then I looked at Brady, who was sitting on my feet as I wrote, and had a better idea. I deleted the paragraph and started again.

This time the apartment door flew open and an enormous Bernese Mountain Dog burst out, dragging the perky young blonde down the steps. The dog was just a pup, maybe nine months old, but he was already closing in on a hundred pounds. He took one look at Mulligan and bolted straight for him.  Peggy shouted “Brady, no!” but Brady wasn’t listening. He kept coming, ears and big pink tongue flopping. She outweighed him, but not by much, and he was a lot stronger. He dragged her right to Mulligan. Good doggie. Mulligan squatted on his heels to meet him. The dog draped his front paws over the reporter’s shoulders and worked that tongue in his ear. “Brady!” Peggy said again, and tugged on the leash with no discernible effect. “He can’t help himself,” Mulligan said. “Dogs and women love me.” The perfect introduction.

Since the real Brady came to live with me, he’s helped me with a lot of things. He’s great company when my wife is on the road. He’s brought joy to our 15-year-old girl. He sniffed out a box turtle that became a welcome guest in our house for a week before we released him into the wild. Brady gets me up from the computer to take him on walks, exercise we both badly need. I’d tell you that he is a great chick magnet if I weren’t worried that my wife might read this. And now he’s helping me write the sequel to “Rogue Island” (Forge, Oct. 12).

I’ve lived with dogs most of my life. On my fourth birthday, my father surprised me with a little black mutt that I ingeniously named Blackie. He was a terror. Snarled at visitors. Killed and ate our neighbor’s chickens. Chased cars, getting sideswiped by tires. And died in his sleep at the age of 17.

Later, I raised Border Collies. Our Sadie, progeny of Scottish champions, had great litters. Some of her pups went on to become obedience champions, and one ended up making commercials in Hollywood. I kept two of Sadie’s pups, Poco and Panda. Mama and the pups were all smart (everything you have heard about the breed is true), but Poco was a genius among dogs. When I trimmed the hedge, she’d try to help by jumping up and tearing at the branches. When I picked strawberries in our garden, she’d pluck them with her mouth and drop them in my basket. When I husked corn, she’d grab an ear, brace it with her front paws, and tear the husks away with her teeth. Anything to lend a hand.

Back then, I was working out of my house in Massachusetts, covering eastern and northern New England for a newspaper in another state. I was one of those writers who needed to read his stories out loud to someone so I could hear how the words sounded when they came out of my mouth. But often I was alone at home with the dogs.

So I’d call Poco and say, “sit.” Poco would sit. I’d say, “stay,” and Poco would stay. Then I’d read my story to her, and Poco would listen to my voice, cocking her head as if she were fascinated by every line. For a while there, I was worried I might have to save for her college tuition.

Twelve years ago, I moved into an apartment that didn’t allow pets and stayed there for ten years. Boy did I miss having a dog. So last summer, after we bought a house in a nice suburban town in New Jersey, the very next thing we got for ourselves was Brady.

You can learn a lot about people by how they treat dogs. The same goes for fictional characters.

So when I started writing my first crime novel, “Rogue Island,” dogs inevitably worked their way into the story. In that book, Mulligan pines for Rewrite, the Portuguese Water Dog his harpy of an ex-wife doesn’t care for but keeps out of spite. And a mutt named Sassy, looking like a cross between a German Shepard and a Humvee, figures significantly into one of the sub-plots. Rewrite reappears in the last lines of the book–lines that Ken Bruen, Irish master of noir, calls “as callous as I ever read, and perfectly fitting.”

In the sequel I’m writing now, tentatively titled “Cliff Walk,” an aging bookie named Zerilli adopts a big mutt from the pound.

“Got a name for him yet?” Mulligan asks.

“Calling him Shortstop.”

“How come?”

“‘Cause Centerfielder’s a stupid fuckin’ name.”

Zerilli got the dog to guard his place at night, but it’s not working. The dog loves everybody. Mulligan almost asks if Zerilli is going to keep the dog, but from the way the bookmaker’s fingers are working behind the dog’s ears, he already has his answer.

And the reader has learned something important about Zerilli.

I could tell you more about all this, but Brady is tugging at my pants leg. It’s time to go for a walk.

Recently I sat in a dark auditorium to watch a screening of “The Maltese Falcon” for what must have been the 100th time. Most of the others in the audience were college students, and within minutes they began to titter. By the third scene, the titters turned into belly laughs.