Police Chief Mario Balzic's sixth case: there's a new mayor in Rocksburg, PA, one of those simplifying self-righteous amateurs bent on law and order who can't leave anything alone. His calls never stop, even trapping Balzic in his refuge at Muscotti's Bar.|
There's a double robbery in two identical apartments, rented but hardly ever used by a Pittsburg drug dealer who's clean with the law. A young woman is found shot dead on the street. She can't be identified, but her murder has all the appearances of a professional hit. The mayor is near hysteria, and he smears the case all over Balzic, who not only has to solve the murder but teach his nosy new boss the not-so-plain facts of police work.
It's an impossible assignment that turns raw and ugly (then uglier) because it's a drug case, Balzic's first; because corrupt state narcs are involved; and because the Rev. Rutherford Rufee, the exotic and superbly drawn boss of the local black underworld, is Balzic's best hope of solving the crime. And Rufee, a guileful genius, plays Balzic for his own vengeful purposes, purposes that overlap Balzic's own and climax in the never-never land of a bravura plea- bargaining deal all of which moves the mayor's education well up into graduate study. Balzic and the law don't lose, but the victory is hardly sweet.
There is not literary tyranny quite like a category. Constantine is a novelist who writes, we say, "detective fiction," but that misses what's most memorable about his books the superb rendition of social texture and of particular people embedded in it, something only our best novelist can do. Always A Body To Trade belongs to readers who shun catagories. It's familiar small-town Rocksburg, tough, immigrant working class and shot through with the verbal magic Constantine weaves out of everyday speech, heightened this time by miracles of Black English.