A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by John Lutz


K. C. CONSTANTINE – The Man Who Liked to Look at Himself. Mario Balzac #2. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1973. David R. Godine, paperback, 1987.

   Rocksburg, Pennsylvania, police chief Mario Balzic, despite misgivings, is persuaded by the new commander of the state troopers, Lieutenant Minyon, to accompany Minyon on the first day of hunting season. Balzic isn’t crazy about Minyon, and hunting (animals, that is) isn’t Balzic’s favorite pastime.

   Things go wrong. Minyon’s prize Weimaraner bites him in the hand while they are in the car on the way to the hunt. Then the dog causes even more problems for Balzic by rooting around in the woods and finding a human bone. Balzic is given the task of discovering who is missing, and finding the rest of the body.

   The someone missing turns out to be Frank Gallic, the partner in a discount meat business with Balzic’s friend Micky Samrnara. Sammara and his sister Tina have been operating the business for almost a year while waiting for Gallic to return. Minyon decides that Mickey had something to do with Gallic’s disappearance and arrests him, prompting Balzic to hire feisty Mo Vukanas, a local lawyer with a burning dislike for state troopers, to defend Sammara.

   This is offbeat crime fiction, written in a readable, literate style, tightly plotted and with believable, very human characters in familiar settings. Constantine knows how to maintain suspense. He lets it unfold to a logical and satisfying conclusion.

   Equally offbeat and worth reading are the other Mario Balzic novels, which include The Rocksburg Railroad Murders (1972), A Fix Like This (1975), the acclaimed Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes (1982), Always a Body to Trade (1983), and Upon Some Midnight Clear (1985).

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.


UPDATE: There have now been 17 books in Constantine’s “Rockburg” series, through 2002. I do not believe that Mario Balzac has been in all of them, or if so, only tagentially. #12 in the series, Good Sons (1996) is described thusly: “Detective Rugs Carlucci is the likely successor to Police Chief Mario Balzic…,” but in #13, Family Values (1997), Balzic is called back into service.