Constantine, K.C. 1934–
Constantine, K.C. 1934–
PERSONAL: Born in 1934, near Pittsburgh, PA; married.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Warner Books, 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
CAREER: Writer. Has worked as a laborer in cement products plants, bottling plants, and on a chicken farm, as a truck driver, a forklift driver, a wall-washer, a hot carrier, a developer of industrial radiographs, an English teacher, and a newspaper proofreader and copyeditor. Military service: U.S. Marine Corps.
"MARIO BALZIC" MYSTERIES
The Rocksburg Railroad Murders, Saturday Review Press (New York, NY), 1972.
The Man Who Liked to Look at Himself, Saturday Review Press (New York, NY), 1973.
The Blank Page, Saturday Review Press (New York, NY), 1974.
A Fix like This, Saturday Review Press (New York, NY), 1975.
The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes, Godine (Boston, MA), 1982.
Always a Body to Trade, Godine (Boston, MA), 1983.
Upon Some Midnights Clear, Godine (Boston, MA), 1985.
Joey's Case, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1988.
Sunshine Enemies, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1989.
Bottom Liner Blues, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Cranks and Shadows, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Good Sons, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Family Values, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Blood Mud, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Brushback, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Grievance, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Saving Room for Dessert, Mysterious Press/Warner Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to From These Hills, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1976; Murder Ink, edited by Dilys Winn, Workman, 1984; Colloquium on Crime, edited by Robin W. Winks, Scribner, 1986; Murderer's Row: Baseball Mysteries, edited by Otto Penzler, New Millenium Press; and Criminal Records, edited by Otto Penzler, Orion.
SIDELIGHTS: While keeping his identity a secret, the pseudonymous K.C. Constantine has gained acclaim for his mystery novels featuring resourceful police chief Mario Balzic of the coal-mining community of Rocksburg, Pennsylvania. Balzic, according to a contributor to the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, "achieves his successes more through his sensitivity to the ways people think and feel than through routine police work and laboratory procedures. Balzic is overweight, drinks too much, and has trouble controlling his temper and his tongue, but this small-town policeman is a match for the state investigators who occasionally intrude into his territory, and his eye for a significant movement or gesture seems to take us into the dark and troubled interior of his world." Writing in Booklist, Thomas Gaughan called the Balzic books "one of the best mystery series ever published."
Constantine introduced Balzic in The Rocksburg Railroad Murders, in which the boozing, profane—yet surprisingly compassionate and understanding—cop must investigate the demise of a commuter whose head is injured while he is waiting to board a train. Jean M. White, in her Washington Post Book World appraisal, noted that Constantine skillfully evokes small-town life, and she called The Rocksburg Railroad Murders a "first-rate mystery of local color."
Constantine followed The Rocksburg Railroad Murders with The Man Who Liked to Look at Himself, where Balzic must solve a puzzling case of dismemberment. With this novel Constantine reaped further recognition for masterfully depicting what Newgate Callendar described in the New York Times Book Review as "the sullen, tension-ridden, anti-intellectual atmosphere that is one part of small-town America." Callendar added that Constantine is "a marvelous writer."
The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes, the fifth of Constantine's Balzic mysteries, has the sleuth initially involved in negotiations between the police union and pompous officials and politicians. As a distraction from this distasteful task, Balzic begins an investigation into the death of a man memorable for selling tomatoes out of season. Balzic's probe brings him greater adventure than he had anticipated. Newsweek reviewer Charles Michener was impressed with The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes, lauding Constantine for both his convincing evocation of small-town America and his lean prose. "There isn't an ounce of fat in the narrative," Michener contended, "and the dialogue of profane, mostly imperfect English sounds just right." The St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers contributor believed that the novel's "deeply pessimistic tone records poignantly the disturbances in the lives of people whose jobs have disappeared and who see little hope of climbing out of the emotional and financial pit into which they have fallen."
In the mystery Joey's Case, Constantine's eighth "Balzic" novel, the chief conducts a murder investigation while contending with his declining sexuality. "By the end of the novel," the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers contributor noted, "the investigation has been resolved offstage and the final chapter in the case … is related by Balzic in a scene where the crucial issue is the long-delayed discussion of the relationship between Balzic and his wife."
In Sunshine Enemies Constantine again subordinates crime solving to more general human considerations. In this novel Balzic must fend off a local preacher—who is irate over a pornography establishment—while contending with his mother's recent hospitalization following a stroke. Matters are aggravated further when a corpse is discovered near the pornography shop. Reviewing Sunshine Enemies, Washington Post Book World contributor White noted that Constantine, far from being merely a writer of genre novels, has been producing "a sustained series … with marvellous evocations of character, place and time."
Balzic retires from the police force in Cranks and Shadows and is an advisor to the acting police chief, Ruggiero Carlucci, in Good Sons. Family Values finds him temporarily brought out of retirement to quietly investigate a double murder for which a police chief's son has been jailed. "Only a few crime writers … have risked letting their sleuths age gracefully and/or brought their series to a definitive end," wrote a contributor to Publishers Weekly. "Here [in Cranks and Shadows] Constantine caps the long, bitter career of Mario Balzic…. This elegaic swansong of a working-class cop is as much about loyalty, urban blight and aging's nasty tricks as it is about detecting." Bill Ott, writing in Booklist, called Cranks and Shadows "the swan song of one of the most memorable cops in the history of the police procedural."
Balzic is given a subordinate role in Good Sons, in which Detective Sergeant Ruggiero ("Rugs") Carlucci, his protege, is heading the department until a permanent new police chief is found. As a critic for Publishers Weekly commented, "Balzic's still hanging around, dispensing advice from the sanctuary of his uneasy retirement, but this is Rugs's book." Carlucci is investigating a brutal rape/murder case while dealing with the town's difficult mayor and his own troublesome mother. The St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers contributor noted: "Carlucci's dogged professionalism is put to the test by a murder investigation that returns the series to its procedural roots." Marilyn Stasio in the New York Times Book Review found that Carlucci "conducts a smart, thorough investigation that involves some memorable interviews with characters so real and vital you can practically see them strutting down the street." "Constantine is in top form here," Gaughan wrote in Booklist.
In Family Values the retired Balzic uncovers a sadistic family history while looking into a murder that occurred some seventeen years earlier. "Constantine," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor, "pushes this tale to the edge of believability…, but he anchors the work with breathtakingly expressive dialogue and with Balzic's powerful decency." Gaughan commented in Booklist that, in Family Values, "the wonderfully human but world-weary Mario is at his most appealing."
Carlucci returns in Brushback, the story of a former major-league pitcher, Brushback Bobby Blasco, who is found beaten to death in an alley. An ex-wife's father claims responsibility for the crime, but that story soon falls apart. In the course of his investigation, Carlucci discovers that the ballplayer had a history of beating his wives, a trait that earned him a fair share of enemies. A reviewer writing in Publishers Weekly called Brushback "another near-perfect game from Constantine. His working-class dialogue is always exacting and evocative, and his detective is a great guy with a good heart and a mouth that just never quits."
In Blood Mud the retired Balzic takes center stage. He has been hired by an insurance agency to investigate a claim concerning missing handguns and ammunition from a firearms company. His investigation is complicated by the fact that Balzic is having marital and health problems, including a loss of memory and pains in the chest that result in an operation to open up his arteries. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote: "As is typical of Constantine's dark, gritty novels, the pitch-perfect dialogue carries a zigzag plot, full of idiosyncratic characters, that is beautifully developed and enigmatically resolved." In his review in Booklist, Gaughan noted that the author's examination of Balzic's "fears and inner conflicts … raises this latest Balzic novel to the level of the best contemporary literature."
In Grievance, the author once again focuses on detective Carlucci, who is investigating the murder of a steel magnate who ruined Rocksburg's economy by moving his plant to South America. The story also probes Carlucci's personal life, from his caring for his mother to his relationship with a psychiatric social worker. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the book is less about the mystery than about "personal angst" but went on to call it "finely crafted."
In Saving Room for Dessert, Constantine leaves Balzic and Carlucci behind to follow three cops on the beat and the events of one night that place each in a clearer light, revealing both their strengths and weaknesses. "The threads of the various plots are woven beautifully into this story," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor, who went on to comment on the novel's "richness of detail." Marilyn Stasio, writing in the New York Times Book Review, noted: "Constantine is as eloquent as ever in speaking out on the inevitability of violence when people can't find the language to express themselves."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Atlantic Monthly, January, 1974, review of The Man Who Liked to Look at Himself, p. 99.
Booklist, January 15, 1995, Bill Ott, review of Cranks and Shadows, p. 898; January 1, 1996, Thomas Gaughan, review of Good Sons, p. 794; February 15, 1997, Thomas Gaughan, review of Family Values, p. 1006; February 1, 1998, Thomas Gaughan, review of Brushback, p. 902; March 15, 1999, Thomas Gaughan, review of Blood Mud, p. 1291; May 1, 2000, Thomas Gaughan, review of Grievance, p. 1616; July, 2002, Thomas Gaughan, review of Saving Room for Dessert, p. 1825.
Christian Science Monitor, July 28, 1982, James Kaufmann, review of The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes, p. 17.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2002, review of Saving Room for Dessert, p. 771.
Library Journal, March 1, 1998, Rex E. Klett, review of Brushback, p. 131; May 1, 2000, Rex Klett, review of Grievance, p. 158; July, 2002, Patrick Wall, review of Saving Room for Dessert, p. 126.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 11, 1983, Nick B. Williams, review of Always a Body to Trade, p. 15.
New Republic, January 27, 1982, Robin W. Winks, review of The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes, p. 38.
Newsweek, June 21, 1982, Charles Michener, review of The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes, p. 68.
New York Times Book Review, February 11, 1973, review of The Rocksburg Railroad Murders, p. 30; December 2, 1973, review of The Rocksburg Railroad Murders, p. 80; December 23, 1973, Newgate Callendar, review of The Man Who Liked to Look at Himself, p. 16; December 1, 1974, review of The Man Who Liked to Look at Himself, p. 80; May 30, 1982, Newgate Callendar, review of The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes, p. 15; March 27, 1983, review of The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes, p. 43; April 21, 1985, review of Always a Body to Trade, p. 46; June 28, 1987, Patricia T. O'Conner, review of The Man Who Liked to Look at Himself, p. 34; May 2, 1993, Marilyn Stasio, review of Bottom Liner Blues, p. 22; February 5, 1995, Marilyn Stasio, review of Cranks and Shadows, p. 30; March 3, 1996, Marilyn Stasio, review of Good Sons, p. 20; September 8, 2002, Marilyn Stasio, review of Saving Room for Dessert, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, May 3, 1993, review of Bottom Liner Blues, p. 296; December 12, 1994, review of Cranks and Shadows, p. 52; January 8, 1996, review of Good Sons, p. 60; February 3, 1997, review of Family Values, p. 98; January 26, 1998, review of Brushback, p. 72; March 15, 1999, review of Blood Mud, p. 51; May 15, 2000, review of Grievance, p. 93; July 22, 2002, review of Saving Room for Dessert, p. 61.
Time, July 5, 1982, review of The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes, p. 67.
Times (London, England), August 26, 2000, James Hopkin, review of Blood Mud, p. 14.
Times Literary Supplement, July 13, 1984, review of The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes, p. 790; October 11, 1985, review of Always a Body to Trade, p. 24; April 25, 1986, review of The Man Who Liked to Look at Himself, p. 454; January 9, 1987, review of Upon Some Midnights Clear, p. 42; December 9, 1988, review of Joey's Case, p. 1376.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), May 6, 1990, review of Sunshine Enemies, p. 6.
Washington Post Book World, March 18, 1973, Jean M. White, review of The Rocksburg Railroad Murders, p. 13; May 20, 1990, Jean M. White, review of Sunshine Enemies, p. 11.
Bad Attitudes, http://www.badattitudes.com/ (November 9, 2005), includes some of author's writings, along with brief profile of and interviews with author.