Missing from the 17th installment in Constantine’s wondrous saga (Grievance, 2000, etc.) of Rocksburg, Pennsylvania, is the kind of singular hero like the Homeric Mario Balzic or the endearing Rugs Carlucci that hauls readers in and keeps them there wire to wire. And Rocksburg fans will surely feel the lack. Still, there are rewards aplenty in the intertwining stories of three embattled patrolmen. William Rayford, the department’s sole African-American; James Resata, the very decorated, very mixed-up war veteran; and gentle giant Robert “Booboo” Canoza are all experienced professionals. Differing sharply from one another in intriguing ways, they all hate drawing duty in the Flats, a section of Rocksburg where the collars are as blue as the atmosphere of citizen belligerence and nonstop police involvement. It’s not that the crime rate in the Flats is higher than elsewhere, or that the crimes themselves are the stuff of headlines. Good street cops can cope with whatever goes down. In the Flats, though, it’s fights about parking spaces and dog droppings that lead to unneighborly flare-ups depressing in their frequency and sometimes downright dangerous to life, limb, and career. Such is the unlikely intrigue that begins one night with an overmatched Rayford, soon catches Resata in the middle, and ends with a wounded, bleeding Canoza en route to Conemaugh General.
It’s the human comedy done to a turn: mystery lite, to be sure, but the nuances are true, the satire deft, and the pitch-perfect dialogue alone worth the price.