The hard-drinking, fact-finding, womanizing reporter is a cliche in crime (and other) fiction… right up there with the amateur lady sleuth who has a cop boyfriend, the PI with the grudging relationship of mutual respect with the hard-boiled cop, and the good-guy-who-does-what-it-takes-whose-best-friend-is-a-criminal. But a cliche becomes a cliche because it works.
In the case of Bruce DeSilva’s debut novel, Rogue Island, all the pieces fall into place. That’s why it’s one of the five novels up for the Mystery Writers of America‘s Edgar Award for Best First Novel.
DeSilva’s protagonist, Liam Mulligan, is investigating an arsonist. Buildings are going up in flames, and that’s a fact in the city, but the heat gets turned up when one of the burned-out buildings has some bodies in it. Add a humorous sidekick (nicknamed Thanks, Dad because he’s the publisher’s son) that Liam doesn’t take seriously enough, a totally hot reporter girlfriend (what does she see in him?) and a surprising female best friend who meets a bad end and it’s a pretty compelling read.
Pros for Rogue Island is the twisty plot, the breezy, self-assured writing style, and the ending that I only saw moments before DeSilva revealed it. I also loved the shockingly duplicitous girlfriend. Cons are the cliches (the lovable dog, the curse-spewing ex-wife, etc.) and the shock of the best friend’s death, which I found unnecessary.
All in all, I had a hard time ranking Rogue Island. It’s a tough call, but I’m giving The Serialist the edge for sheer inventiveness. Here’s the line up so far: