Monday, March 30, 2009



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] 


Blogger Dorte H said...

"The novel is much more interested in the people and their situations than the mystery." - so this must be femikrimi for men??? ;) At least it sound like a quite cosy read.
I like the one about the Jewish carpenter - and in my capacity as the vicar´s wife I got it immediately (so if you asked questions of that kind, I would also have a chance of winning your books).

7:30 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Dorte it is not a cosy read. I did mention the characters would be happy in a Sciascia or Camilleri novel. What Sciascia says about Sicily could equally apply to Balzic's Rocksburg PA.
"Sicily full of likeable people who should have their heads chopped off."

I will avoid any religious questions in future as I don't want to make it too easy for you. ;o)

12:34 PM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

I'm delighted by this choice, for Constantine's books having given me great pleasure since the late 1970's. They used to appear every two to three years, but the latest was published in 2002, which is bothersome. Carl Kosak/Constantine makes J.D. Salinger look like a publicity hound, so there is no way to know what he's up to these days, if anything.

1:58 PM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

I will have to redefine the word ´cosy´. What it means to me is enjoyable environment and characters, not necessarily a cosy plot so couldn´t the rest of you please use the word in that sense also - it would make it so much easier for you to understand me - or vice versa???
And why on earth did I reveal that there are certain areas I actually know something about?
I´m off to bed, sulking now.

2:10 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

You do so well with your second or third language Dorte that we forget sometimes you are not English. Accept my apologies for getting the wrong meaning.

Please don't sulk I will persuade my wife who has written for a religious magazine in the past to pose some questions in your area of extra knowledge. I won't tell her you're a vicar's wife or she might be worried her questions might not be difficult enough.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Philip I thought you might have read him. I think this website which I have not had time to study might be KC's work

2:33 PM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

I don't think 'badattitudes' is Constantine's doing, Norman, although it could be, if KCC is really into obfuscating. I think that odd little site is the work of Jerome Doolittle, who features on it and is a journalist and writer of political thrillers -- unless Doolittle is in fact KCC and the JD bio a fiction. But I don't think so. Doolittle also has a blog called The Smirking Chimp, named in honour of George W. Bush and devoted to the doings of the Republican Party.

5:52 PM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Re cosy: It is not really a question of language, but of sloppy terminology :)
Just like I know that ´romantic literature´ is Wordsworth & Byron and not Danielle Steel, I also "know" that the label ´cosy mystery´ is something like Miss Marple, but I tend to use it as a much broader term meaning crime fiction which makes me feel cosy while reading it. So almost anything but noir & hard-boiled crime is cosy to me.

4:30 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Dorte, a very good use of the term. I feel cosy when I settle down to read Jo Nesbo or Philip Kerr and their books are certainly not "cosy" in the other sense.

8:49 AM  
Blogger Lauren said...

I'm inclined to agree with Dorte on cosy as 'enjoyable environment and characters', simply because I'm reluctant to describe a plot involving (possibly multiple) murder as cosy! A lot of Golden Age fiction has a remarkably callous attitude to the victims as well - the body in the library might as well have been a jigsaw puzzle.

For novels I enjoy sitting down to, I'd probably borrow that handy German term, gemütlich, which has a similar meaning but doesn't bother my scruples as much.

PS: Dorte, that may be the first time anyone's used the words 'Danielle Steele' and 'literature' in the same setence. Byron's a much better fit, though I prefer ETA Hoffmann if I'm poking around the early nineteenth century.

1:34 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Please notice, Lauren, that I just said Danielle Steel was NOT Romantic literature (so I have neither said she is romantic in a Byronic sense nor that she is literature).

I can see you and Norman feel the same about good crime fiction as I do, and as long as we are talking about traditional crime fiction with an entertaining plot but no message, I see it as pure fiction and a murder or two do not bother me. When it comes to modern plots, e.g. with a social message (fight against trafficking and such), they often affect me in quite another way, and I would not call them cosy.
Hope this makes a bit of sense.

4:51 AM  
Blogger Lauren said...

Dorte, it makes perfect sense, although I always find even harsher crime fiction at least a little bit comforting since I read it as a break from a lot of the more avant-garde stuff I have to read professionally. There's something nice about having an idea of the rules!

Oh, and I was joking about Danielle Steele - not sure I managed to convey that via text. Sorry!

Norm, I also got the Jewish carpenter joke, but then, I'd heard it before. (I'm Jewish - it's fairly common currency.)

2:21 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Lauren I am also Jewish, and had heard the joke in a different context. But jet lagged and after driving from Charlotte to Wilmington past all those churches and gun shops I was not thinking that clearly for a minute or two. After a few days we drove up the coast through Camp Lejeune, to New Berne where we found a small synagogue opposite a Catholic church. They looked like small ships huddled together for protection in that sea of Protestantism.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Lauren, I was also joking about Danielle Steel. I have never read any of her books so I merely know her from film trailers.

8:18 AM  
Blogger Lauren said...

I must confess, I *thought* I'd be seeing churches and gun shops when I went to the US (it was a music tour and my first stop was Alabama), but was more surprised by the fact that the butter was white and the cheese yellow. I was used to the reverse.

Hope I didn't say anything out of order. I've got rather out of the habit of thinking other people might also be Jewish, I admit - in the last few years I've been a bit of an outlier when living in industrial cities in Germany and Poland (unsurprisingly) and also in Edinburgh. Interesting experiences indeed.

My mother, on hearing the "my boss is a Jewish carpenter" line, occasionally used to reply with "so is mine!" Cue much confusion among listeners - her father owned a hardware shop, and she used to work there during the holidays! (My family background is somewhat unusually working class among those who did get out.)

4:38 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

My father also owned a hardware shop and I used to work in it in the holidays !
He was also, as his father before him, a master glazier. Both his brothers were doctors who he had helped to get through university but when it came to his turn, the war and my arrival stopped him. A pity because he was a mathematical genius and superb chess player.
My great grandparents and grand parents along with assorted cousins escaped Tsarist pogroms in the late 19th and early 20th century.

1:55 AM  

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