Archive for March 30, 2009


Posted: March 30, 2009 in Uncategorized


My choices have so far not been very adventurous. Conan Doyle, Christie, Sjowall and Wahloo, and then Raymond Chandler are hardly surprising picks but they are a solid introduction to crime fiction, and therefore I can be a bit more eccentric in my next choice.

The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes by K.C.Constantine [I love the title] says on the cover it is a Mario Balzic detective novel, but Mario does more talking and thinking than he does detecting. The novel is much more interested in the people and their situations than the mystery. 

Balzic is the police chief of an economically depressed fictional Western Pennsylvania rust belt town called Rocksburg. The novel written in 1983 is a study of that town, its inhabitants and their problems. 
The interrelations of husbands, wives, parents, race, religion, class and politics are more important than the plot. This novel is primarily a social commentary on the heartland of America and the many depressed small towns where the people, including Mario Balzic, are angry and cling to their guns and their religion. [With apologies to President Obama] 

The city council are negotiating with the police union and we can judge that it is a very ethnic town from their names:

“they being for the city, Mayor Angelo Bellotti; Councilman Louis Del Vito, chairman of the Safety Committe; and Solicitor Peter Renaldo; and for the police, Lieutenant Angelo Clemente………Fraternal order of Police president Wall Stuchinsky, a state cop; and Joseph Czekaj, FOP solicitor.”

Mario Balzic is half Serb half Italian, a less politically correct terminology is used, in a town with some characters who would clearly be at home in a Sciascia or Camilleri novel. 

Renaldo was in his early thirties; his father had been a coal miner and worked all the overtime he could get to make sure his son got through college and law school so he would never have to spend  a minute in  the mines, and now Balzic knew, the son despised the father for being a miner, an immigrant, and, worst of all, uneducated.

And in another passage. 

Belotti was good at what he did and what he did was make people believe it was in their interest to have him for a friend. It was a good thing he had few appetites. There was no telling what he could steal if he had more.

Good writers can say so much with so few words.

I have to declare an interest in that I love small town USA as my first trip there thirty years ago involved a bus trip through Western Pennsylvania, and we have stayed with friends in the Eastern part of the state where there are many Orthodox churches and the people all seem to have surnames with no vowels. The heartland is a wonderfully hospitable place once you get used to having the only car in the restaurant car park with everyone else driving a pick up truck with a gun rack. 

One of my favourite memories of these small towns was a poster we saw in North Carolina in 2001 which said “My boss is a Jewish carpenter”. 
After seeing a few of these posters I was impressed that a Jew could build a successful business in the Southern Bible belt where the Klan had been a factor in the past.

Then I had an epiphany and realized the identity of the Jewish carpenter. 

Read The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes as a guide to the world of small town ethnic America and its values, a world away from Los Angeles, Florida and New York. 

[to be continued]