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Cranks and Shadows [Hardcover]

K. C. Constantine
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Feb. 1 1995
Rumors of cutbacks during election time were hardly a novelty, especially in the wake of the Reagan-Bush trickle-down eighties. Already the Sanitation Department, the city's vehicle mechanics, its plumber, and two carpenters were history, replaced by private contractors. Nevertheless, Rocksburg hadn't had a big firing in years. When Balzic gets a summons from the mayor, the last thing on his mind is police layoffs. The chief finds himself forced to eliminate five officers, leaving him twenty-five members to police a city of fifteen thousand. As Mayor Kenny Strohn puts it, a city with a boarded-up Main Street and an empty treasury hardly has a choice. Yet Balzic - profane, arrogant, occasionally dangerous, and up until now, a survivor - is losing more than his policing capability. He's also losing his imagination. From somewhere inside his own department, a new and even more unexpected menace has surfaced. Witnesses report a small number of heavily armed, camouflaged commandos rappelling out of blue-and-white helicopters. Rocksburg may not have much left, but someone is willing to outfit and deploy a small private army to get it. They call it privatization. They say it works better than government. But Balzic's job is to protect his city. And Balzic's city is not for sale. It's all been happening under Balzic's chin, and he never saw it. The cop who never voted, who always pretended he was above power plays and politics, now has to perform the easiest and the hardest act of his career. Look down.

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From Publishers Weekly

Only a few crime writers, Joseph Hansen among them, have risked letting their sleuths age gracefully and/or brought their series to a definitive end. Here Constantine caps the long, bitter career of Mario Balzic, his pragmatic Pennsylvanian police chief, with a hard-earned, all-night retirement party. Balzic has kept the peace in the town of Rocksburg since his 1972 introduction in The Rocksburg Railroad Murders. Now 65, with an old geezer's face looking back from the mirror and his wife's mind on Florida, Mario is told by the mayor that five cops have to be cut from the force. Outraged and frustrated at having to decide who to let go, he himself remains all cop; even drinking with his pals at Muscotti's bar, his cop's ear takes in the gossip and tales of political maneuvering that bespeak a world more morally complex than he can stomach. The mystery revolves mainly around paramilitary types seen stomping around the outskirts of town, practicing jumps from a helicopter and markedly not answering Mario's very hostile questions. But this elegiac swansong of a working-class cop is as much about loyalty, urban blight and aging's nasty tricks as it is about detecting. Constantine's perfectly pitched dialogue and inimitable characters are as sharply depicted as in any of the series' ten previous titles. So long, Mario, you're one of a kind and we'll miss you.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Mario Balzic, the aging chief of police in Rocksburg, Pennsylvania, is fed up. He doesn't want to retire, but he's sick of the politicians, the municipal scams, the cutbacks, the whole mess of it. Constantine fans, who have followed Balzic's career since 1972, will recognize this novel for the momentous event it signals: the swan song of one of the most memorable cops in the history of the police procedural. Over 11 novels, Constantine has used the beleaguered Balzic to portray the oppressive dailiness of a cop's life: the domestic violence, the petty crime, the endless bureaucratic infighting, the eroding personal life. This time, there's all of that and more: a commando unit, led by the power-hungry fire chief, seems to be usurping the police's responsibility. If, in this novel and its predecessor, Bottom Liner Blues (1993), Constantine seems to be climbing atop his soapbox a bit too often to rail at the ills of contemporary society, he still knows how to write working-class dialogue that spits itself off the page with an unequaled ferocity. This isn't the best Balzic novel, but attention must be paid to a marvelous series. Bill Ott

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Most helpful customer reviews
By Lawrance M. Bernabo HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I read through the first ten Mario Balzic novels by K.C. Constantine consecutively, not knowing that I had stopped short of the final book in the series, "Cranks and Shadows." The end of the road for Mario Balzic is a bittersweet conclusion, although over the course of the last few novels I had found myself in total agreement with his wife Ruth that he needs to pay more attention to her and learn to stop being totally consumed by his job as Police Chief of Rocksburg, Pennsylvania. For ten books Balzic has stubbornly avoided doing either and his Achilles heel has been that as good as he is at wearing people done through intense conversations, his wife can turn the tables on him in that particular arena. The question is whether Balzis is going to go out with a bang or with a whimper.
Rockburg is seeing hard times. Already the Sanitation Department, the city's vehicle mechanics, its plumber, and two carpenters have been replaced by private contractors. It has been eight years since Balzic has hired any new officers for the Police Department or that his men have seen a promotion. Now Mayor Kenny Strohn has told Balzic to layoff five officers, leaving him but twenty-five members to police an economically depressed city of 15,000. As if that was not bad enough, Balzic is stunned to discover a small group of heavily armed, camouflaged commandos rappelling out of a blue-and-white helicopter. The chief cannot get any answers out of these para-military figures, which means he is going to start asking hard questions. When he learns what is going on in his town and discovers that not everybody has the same idea of public service that has been the rock upon which Balzic has built his career, he realizes it is time to reconsider what is left of his life.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Mystery Writer No One's Ever Heard Of Oct. 3 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
K.C. Constantine started his publishing career with The Rocksburg Railroad Murders, which was published by a small literary press in Boston. Over the years, Constantine's eye and skill have become so remarkable that he transcends both the mystery genre and the limitations of series character works.

Constantine has an ear for dialogue that rivals George V. Higgins, and his narrator, Police Chief Mario Balzic, is a proud, despairing, upstanding man in a town that's been falling apart for 20 years. Rocksburg is the mystery novel's answer to Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, rendered with all the family intrigue and hardscrabble perseverance alive and intact. Often there's no murder, or mystery in a conventional sense in these novels -- the thing that is grand about them is that through Balzic's eyes we can see our everyday lives as a mystery, where we do the best we can with the clues we've got.
5.0 out of 5 stars The end of the road for Rocksburg police chief Mario Balzic Feb. 23 2003
By Lawrance M. Bernabo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I read through the first ten Mario Balzic novels by K.C. Constantine consecutively, not knowing that I had stopped short of the final book in the series, "Cranks and Shadows." The end of the road for Mario Balzic is a bittersweet conclusion, although over the course of the last few novels I had found myself in total agreement with his wife Ruth that he needs to pay more attention to her and learn to stop being totally consumed by his job as Police Chief of Rocksburg, Pennsylvania. For ten books Balzic has stubbornly avoided doing either and his Achilles heel has been that as good as he is at wearing people done through intense conversations, his wife can turn the tables on him in that particular arena. The question is whether Balzis is going to go out with a bang or with a whimper.
Rockburg is seeing hard times. Already the Sanitation Department, the city's vehicle mechanics, its plumber, and two carpenters have been replaced by private contractors. It has been eight years since Balzic has hired any new officers for the Police Department or that his men have seen a promotion. Now Mayor Kenny Strohn has told Balzic to layoff five officers, leaving him but twenty-five members to police an economically depressed city of 15,000. As if that was not bad enough, Balzic is stunned to discover a small group of heavily armed, camouflaged commandos rappelling out of a blue-and-white helicopter. The chief cannot get any answers out of these para-military figures, which means he is going to start asking hard questions. When he learns what is going on in his town and discovers that not everybody has the same idea of public service that has been the rock upon which Balzic has built his career, he realizes it is time to reconsider what is left of his life.
The first part of "Cranks and Shadows" was a bit of rough going for me because it seemed that Balzic was no longer raging against the injustice of the world around him but had been reduced to ranting. His conversations, always the strong point of these novels and the way by which he does his job, were becoming decidedly one sided and it was becoming commonplace for people to tell Balzic they were not telling him things he should probably know because they did not want to get into it with him. But then there is a point in the story where everything changes and Balzic does more listening to Ruth and engages in more introspective examinations of his life. Constantine is setting up not only his character for the end of the road, but his readers as well.
The ending to "Cranks and Shadows" is not particularly satisfying, but that presupposes that a "happy" ending is possible in Balzic's world of Rocksburg in the Reagan-Bush eighties where the end of revenue sharing changed everything for local governments. Constantine cannot be faulted for providing a realistic conclusion to Balzic's career and it is difficult not to agree that there is an appropriateness to the way the story ends given the rocky road the character has traveled. After all, to quote my old college professor, nobody promised fair. These eleven Mario Balzic novels, the first half of which are more traditional mystery books, remains a superb character study of irascible hero and the particular region he calls home. I realize this is not Constantine's last novel and I will be interesting to see what it is like to read one his novels that is not about Mario Balzic.
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