Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter for a soon-to-be-defunct Providence newspaper, was introduced to readers in ROGUE ISLAND where he found himself investigating an arson ring. Arson is a crime that deserves a sentence of life in prison. An arsonist doesn’t care if there are people in the building; it is murder once removed. CLIFF WALK finds Mulligan investigating pornography, the crime-that-isn’t-a-crime because there are no victims. No one gets hurt, right? The only aspect of the sex trade that incenses all but the most debased is child pornography.
Prostitution is legal in Rhode Island as long as all the business is conducted indoors. This is not to suggest that the people of Rhode Island agree with this policy but it does keep some politicians solvent at election time.
Those two strands come together when the severed arm of a child is found on a farm and the body of a pornographer is found below the Cliff Walk. The story DeSilva builds around these facts makes the book a must read for those of us who love clever, witty characters who get involved in murders.
CLIFF WALK resonated with me on two levels. I am a life-long resident of the state to the north. When I was young, I made many visits to Salve Regina College, one of the former mansions on the Cliff Walk. My uncle was a priest and we would go with him when he made a yearly visit to one of the nuns on the faculty at Salve. That’s the second level which resonates: the author makes references to the Catholic church throughout the book. It would be difficult to find too many adults in the world who aren’t aware of the clergy sex abuse scandal that shuttered many churches. The author is not disrespectful to the Church. Priests who buy pornographic material are not making a statement about the Church; they are revealing the sinfulness of their own natures.
Fiona McNerney and Liam Mulligan have been friends since childhood. Fiona is now the Attorney General of Rhode Island. Fiona is also a nun, a member of the Little Sisters of the Poor. The Little Sisters are an unlikely group to spawn a politician. They are an extraordinary group of women who have dedicated their lives to easing the elderly poor through their last days. If a person has the financial ability to pay for care in a nursing home, they can’t get in. The sisters are skilled nurses and if someone is fortunate enough to become a resident, they can stay until their last breath. The aforementioned uncle the priest was a chaplain at one of the residences in New Orleans. He was a resident there for the last year of his life. When the cancer spread to his brain, he forgot that he had been a priest for over fifty years but the sisters did not.
CLIFF WALK is a story about the perversion of sex and the lives that are destroyed by prostitution and pornography. Both degrade women. Child pornography and sexual abuse is about the murder of the soul. Bruce DeSilva has written a treatise on the worst of human nature and does it by informing without titillating.
Fiona says, “The commercialization of sex debases and dehumanizes us all. It leads people to think of one another as pieces of meat instead of creatures with immortal souls.” Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island is one of the most breath-taking locations to be found anywhere but people have died there when they forgot about the rocks and the water. Prostitution may have been legal in Rhode Island but it is also immoral. It is another word for slavery.
Reference is made to Reverend Robert Drinan, a member of the faculty at Boston College who was elected to the US House of Representatives. His district was liberal. John Paul II asked Drinan to resign because in representing the will of the people who elected him, he would be expected to vote on issues impacting on reproductive rights. Father Drinan obeyed.