K. C. CONSTANTINE – Cranks and Shadows. Mario Balzic #11. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1995; paperback, 1996.

   I was less than impressed with Constantine’s previous book, Bottom Liner Blues, but there’s no doubt that this gas been one of major series in American crime fictionm bd in American regional fiction as well.

   Rocksburg, Pennsylvania Police Chief Mario Balzic is 65, and he’s just becoming aware that his world is crumbling around him. His city is broke, and he’s going to be forced to lay off men from his already understaffed department. Not only that, he’s suddenly become aware that a para-military law enforcement team has been formed under county aegis, and is operating in his town.

   The old-time politicians are remaking the town, and his wife Ruth is increasing her pressure on him to retire. All of the things he’s been ignoring and avoiding are pressing on him at once, and he doesn’t know what he’s going to do about them. Or what he can.

   Okay. The first thing to understand is that this is a Novel, not a crime novel, not a detective story — a Novel, It really shouldn’t be published by a genre imprint, though maybe the series is well enough known by now that it makes no difference.

   As always, you have Constantine’s unmatched ear for the voices and characters of small-town, ethnic Pennsylvania. The book is filled with people’s talk. Good people. Bad people. Indifferent people. You have an evocative, thoughtful, sad, and angry picture off what Constantine thinks is wrong with a good bit of America, and of course you have the final touches put to the continuing portrait of Constantine’s Pennsylvania.

   This is Balzic’s swan song, and probably Constantine’s; I think he’s said what he had to say. On its own terms, it’s an excellent book.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #17, January 1995.