Good fictional cops don't fade away--they get another sequel. In K.C. Constantine's novel, Cranks and Shadows,
Rocksburg P.A.'s police chief, Mario Balzic, retired. Now, in Family Values,
he's bored out of his mind and itching for something to do. Before he can drive himself, his wife, his bartender and his friends completely nuts, Deputy Attorney General Warren Livingood arrives to make Balzic an offer: investigate a 17-year-old murder that just gets messier with every passing year in exchange for the title of Special Investigator, state credentials and thirty-five dollars an hour.
Soon Mario is conducting jailhouse interviews with a crew of unsavory folks, all offering up differing stories of the sordid crime at the heart of this tangle: a double homicide resulting from a drug deal gone bad. Eventually, however, the trail leads to Balzic's dopplegänger of sorts: another small-town police chief who, in his prime, was the devil's own. In Family Values the mystery is almost secondary to the fascinating array of complex characters Mr. Constantine creates--characters that will remain in the reader's mind long after the murder has been resolved.
Through a baker's dozen Mario Balzic novels, Constantine has treated readers to some of the best mystery writing done in the last 25 years. Faithful readers have grown old with the wily chief of police of Rocksburg, Pennsylvania, and mourned the economic free fall that has ravaged his small Rust Belt city. Now two books into his retirement, Mario and his wife, Ruth, are at each other's throats as they wrestle with adjusting to his retirement. Enter a Main Line aristocrat who hires Mario as a special investigator for the Attorney General's Office. His charge is to look into a 17-year-old double murder and the possibility that a spectacularly vicious and corrupt chief of police railroaded his own son with perjured testimony. The investigation leads Mario first to a series of prisons, where he interviews the principals in the case, and ultimately brings him face to face with the most sordid and appalling set of family values he has ever encountered. With the wonderfully human but world-weary Mario at his most appealing, this makes an outstanding addition to one of the best mystery series ever published. Thomas Gaughan