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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.
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