Madness and Media: An Ethical Exploration / Author Bruce De Silva

Author Bruce De Silva goes, not only into the mind of a serial killer, but into the court system designed to hold him in Killer Nashville’s 52 Weeks, 52 Guest Bloggers series.

Never say never.  That’s one of those things we all probably learn with age.  Edgar-winning author Bruce De Silva swore he would never write a story about a serial killer.  But he did.  Sort of.

What he has written is a story that haunts you.  What kind of person is safe for release and, if everyone knows a prisoner is a time bomb, is it right to release him?  Or is the court system allowed to invent charges to keep certain people behind bars after they have served their time for the public good?  Doesn’t happen?  Yes, it does.

This is one of the most intriguing and informative studies I’ve read in a long time and we couldn’t find a better author than Bruce De Silva to fictionalize it.  This story will make you think.

I can see why Bruce De Silva wanted to write “Providence Rag,” even if it is something he said he would never do.  This is not a story about where do you get your ideas, but how do you exorcise them for your mind.  Some stories such as this- haunting and ethical- need to find a voice.

Happy Reading!  You’ll think about this one as you sleep.

Clay Stafford

Clay Stafford,
Founder of Killer Nashville

Bruce De Silva
Author Bruce De Silva

I’ve never thought myself as squeamish, but novels about serial killers make me squirm.  It’s been that way ever since my real-life brush with Craig Price, AKA the Warwick, R.I., Slasher.

Price enjoyed stabbing his victims over and over again, long after they were dead.  He was already behind bars when I was assigned to spend several weeks researching a magazine article about him, so I was never in danger.  But my god, the story was an ugly one.  Once it was published, I was sure I never wanted to get that close to evil again.

So two decades later, when I retired from journalism to write crime novels, I vowed never to write one about a serial killer.

Ever since Hannibal Lecter, novelists and screenwriters have competed to make each new serial murderer more twisted than the last; and I didn’t want to be a part of that.  Besides, I told myself, there are plenty of serial killer novels.  Did we really need another one?

But the Price case never stopped haunting me.  It worked on my subconscious, the place where novels are born.  Eventually, the compulsion to fictionalize it became too great to resist.

The result is Providence Rag, the third novel in my Edgar Award-winning series featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter for a dying Providence, R.I., newspaper.

It is a serial killer book, but in my defense, I would argue that it is a most unusual one.

In the novel, the murders are committed and the killer caught in the first seventy-five pages.  The rest of the book explores an impossible moral dilemma: What are decent people to do when a legal loophole requires that a serial killer be released-and when the only way to hold him is to fabricate new charges against him?

Price, the real killer, butchered two women and two children, before he was old enough to drive.  Just thirteen years old when he began killing, he was the youngest serial killer in U.S. history.  But that’s not the interesting part.

Providence Rag by Bruce De SilvaWhen he was arrested at age 15, the state’s juvenile justice system hadn’t been updated for decades, and when they were written, no one had ever imagined a child like him.  So the law required that juveniles, regardless of their crimes, be set free and given a fresh start at age 21.

The law was promptly rewritten so that this couldn’t happen again, but in America, you can’t change the rules retroactively.  So the authorities were faced with releasing Price after he served only six years for his crimes.  Former FBI profiler Robert K. Ressler was horrified.  If Price gets out, he told me, “you’ll be piling up the bodies.”

But Price did not get out.  Twenty-five years later, he remains behind bars, convicted of several offenses he supposedly committed in prison.  I suspect some of these charges were fabricated, but in the very least it is obvious that Price has been absurdly over-sentenced.  For example, he was given thirty years for contempt of court because he declined to submit to a court-ordered psychiatric examination.

Have the authorities abused their power to prevent Price’s release?  Quite possibly.  Should he ever be set free and given the chance to kill again?  I don’t think so.  The ethical dilemma this case poses has always fascinated me.  No matter which side of the issue you come down on, you are considering something that is reprehensible.

I wrote the novel to explore the implications of this.

The real-life conundrum hasn’t caused any soul-searching in Rhode Island-at least not publicly.  Everyone seems content to let Price rot in prison.  And who could blame them?

But a novel is fiction, after all, and Providence Rag is in no way intended to accurately depict real events.  In my book, the ethical issue at the heart of the story haunts Mulligan and his colleagues at the newspaper.

Some of them argue that authorities who are faking charges against the killer are perverting the criminal justice system.  And if they are allowed to get away with it, what’s to stop them from framing someone else?  Besides, isn’t the journalist’s mission to report the truth?

Other’s argue that if they break the story and the killer is released, he is bound to kill again.  And if that happens, the newspaper would have blood on its hands.

The dilemma eventually embroils Mulligan, his fellow reporters, his editors, and the entire state in a heated confrontation over where justice lies.

Bruce De Silva, author of the Mulligan crime novels, has won the Edgar and Macavity Awards and has been a finalist for the Shamus, Anthony, and the Barry Awards.  His fiction has been published in eleven languages.  Previously, he was a journalist, editing stories that won nearly every journalism prize including the Pulitzer.  Visit his website at

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