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by K.C. Constantine

Warner (PB)

Reviewed by Anthony Neil Smith

Reading Constantine is like reading wiretap transcript or listening to a bugged room. He letís his characters talk. Talk a lot, really. Where Elmore Leonard and George Higgins also use dialogue in great measure but edit it to an interesting rhythm, Constantine doesnít edit out the stumbling and stuttering that marks real life speech. And he doesnít mind writing pages and pages of an argument between husband and wife that is more about the husbandís health problems than the crime at the center of the book. In BLOOD MUD, Iíd even go as far as saying the crime really is incidental, and the only reason for it being here is to give our hero, former police chief Mario Balzic, something to do with his retirement. The case of stolen guns and possible conspiracy to. . . well, these arenít bright criminals. The details of the crime are a joy of the book, as are the characters with their wants and dreams, destined to remain stuck in small-town Rocksburg, Pennsylvania.

So, this dialogue thing the author does is both annoying and fascinating. Weíre listening to people talk, just like we do everyday at the mall, the store, work, on the street. We try to imagine what their problems are. We find ourselves leaning forward to get every word, eventually rooting for one side against the other. But on the page, we become conscious of the "Uh"s and "Um"s that litter our own speech as we have to compose sentences on the fly. On paper, they just get in our way and make everyone look dumb. In real life, we couldnít communicate without them. But to edit them would take away the transcript feel. Making it feel real requires us to face our inadequacies.

Itís that experience of life that is reflected in BLOOD MUD. Balzic is bored, and he does an occasional investigation for kicks, this time for an insurance company reeling from an unusual claim: a firearms shop owner says his store was broken into, a large number of automatic handguns stolen, and then everything in the store was smeared with horse shit. No, literally. Real horse shit.

But before Balzic can even get started on the case, he has a "cardiac event" that puts him in surgery to clear a blocked artery. While his health is put in the clear by doctors after the procedure, the bookís drive is Blazicís fear of death, and the judgment he expects to take place there after. He is reevaluating his life, but in his own way that drives his wife and kids nuts. This case helps give him purpose, but without his badge, the old man finds that the world isnít as cooperative, and that no one cares what he has to say about the case.

But this is a smart guy. He knows whatís going on, figures it out early. For all his grouchiness, though, in the end we see a compassionate man who gives every criminal the benefit of the doubt. He allows a chance for redemption. Not a "shoot first, ask later" sort of guy.

BLOOD MUD is one of the "new direction" Constantine novels, as the author has allowed his characters to age and therefore tackle different angles of life. Mario is retired, so itís different from the early books. Rugs Carlucci, the new guy in the spotlight in the recent Constantine works, is seen only in a bit role here while Balzic gets another chance to play ball. Itís a nice piece of work, a different type of read.

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