Forge / Tom Doherty Associates, $25.99. 315 pages, ISBN 978-0-7653-7431-8
In the food for thought department, here’s a juicy little nugget to chew on: Remember when gambling was underground, illegal and in the hands of organized crime? Now it’s legal, and available most everywhere, but in my opinion, still in the hands of organized crime . . . called government. Look anywhere in most states, and you’ll find government- run lotteries and government-controlled casinos with most forms of gambling including dice, cards, roulette, slot-machines, electronic poker or blackjack consoles and the soon-coming-to-a-casino-near-you ability to wager on video games of empire and war where an adept player can win cash. Now, gambling is cool. The state governments are raking in quantum amounts of new taxes . . . and looking to increase their take even more, they’re eyeballing the multiple billions of dollars wagered every year on sporting events, both professional and collegiate. At the present time, sports betting is only legal in Nevada, and Nevada, the NCAA, Pro sports and all the bookies in America would like to keep it that way. But the massive amounts of potential tax dollars are an irresistible temptation for the always cash-devouring state governments . . . setting up a perfect storm of competing interests.
A Scourge of Vipers, by Bruce DeSilva is a ripping-good, page-rattling yarn featuring the harried, wise-cracking and resourceful investigative reporter Liam Mulligan, but at the same time, it’s a serious look at the deleterious effects of big money on politics and government. The novel opens when Mulligan’s pal, the Governor of Rhode Island—who’s a defrocked Roman Catholic sister known as Atilla the Nun—decides to introduce legislation that legalizes sports gambling, with the intention of using the money to solve a budgetary crisis without raising taxes . . . a sure kiss of death for her political career. As soon as word leaks out however, organized crime, pro sports and other groups opposed to the legalization, start to flood the state with cash payoffs and bribes, looking to influence state legislatiors.
Mulligan wants to investigate, but his corporate bosses at the dying Providence Dispatch Newspaper refuse, not wanting to spend money on an inquiry and write-up. So Mulligan, who can’t deny his compulsion to tell the story, goes at it in renegade fashion, putting himself in conflict with his bosses just as a Rhode Island state senator turns up dead, a New Jersey mobster delivering payoff money is killed and the money has disappeared. When Mulligan is accused of all three crimes, he finds himself in the fight of his career, with his reputation, his freedom and maybe his life itself, hanging in the balance.
Like DeSilva’s three previous Mulligan novels he expertly and seamlessly weaves a gripping, finely wrought crime story together with some of the most important moral, social and societal issues of our times. He’s an author with something important to say and the perfect vehicle for saying it. I’m listening. You should be too. He’s an up-and-comer who’s most worthy of your attention . . .