Sunday, March 26, 2023

Constantine, Lakin Breathe Their Last

Although I have great respect for skilled obituarists, I don’t particularly like penning death notices myself. There’s simply too much sadness and sense of loss associated with the exercise. However, since I’m currently confined at home with my first-ever case of COVID-19 (which would probably be worse, had I not received all of the requisite vaccinations), I have ample time to mark the passing of two people much praised for their contributions to crime fiction.

The first is Carl Constantine Kosak, who’s certainly much better known to readers by his pseudonym, K.C. Constantine. Born in 1934 in the town of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania (outside Pittsburgh), he introduced to this genre popular protagonist Mario Balzic, the tough, prideful, stubborn, yet compassionate police chief of Rocksburg, an invented blue-collar town in western Pennsylvania that had been clobbered by America’s transformation from a high-wage industrial economy into a low-paying service economy bent on shipping jobs overseas. Balzic first appeared in The Rocksburg Railroad Murders (1972). Constantine followed that up with 16 additional novels, most starring Balzic, though later series installments promoted Balzic’s self-effacing protégé, Detective Sergeant Ruggiero “Rugs” Carlucci, as the lead.

Wikipedia describes this author as “much more interested in the people in his novels than the actual mystery, and his later novels become ever more philosophical, threatening to leave the mystery/detective genre behind completely.” Still, Constantine is remembered as “one of the most distinguished writers of crime fiction of the past half-century.” The Gumshoe Site explains that “The eighth novel in the ‘Rocksburg’ series, Joey’s Case (Mysterious Press, 1988), was nominated for the 1989 Edgar Award in the Best Novel category.” It was 1982’s The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes, though, that was supposedly the author’s personal favorite among his creations. What was long accepted as his last work, Saving Room for Dessert, reached print back in 2002. But the announcement came recently that Constantine had finished an 18th novel, Another Day’s Pain, which is scheduled for release in early 2024 by Mysterious Press.

Kosak/Constantine perished on March 23 at Westmoreland Hospital, an acute-care facility in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Perfectly consistent for a man who kept so much about himself private, I find no mention online of what killed down. He’s said to have been 88.

* * *

Rita Lakin, too, met her end on March 23. She was a longtime American screenwriter who turned to penning mystery fiction late in life. “Rita was a true hero for modern women,” opines Janet Rudolph in Mystery Fanfare. “She pushed boundaries early on in TV writing. Rita was an amazing, strong, inspiring, passionate, supportive, funny, talented, and generous woman.”

According to a piece in Canada’s Globe and Mail, Lakin turned to writing “after her husband died in 1961, leaving her with three young children to support, Rita Lakin found a secretarial job at Universal Studios [in Los Angeles]. When the English-lit grad realized screenwriting paid more than the steno pool, she started reading scripts and made her way into the business with a sample script for Dr. Kildare.” One of the first women TV scripters, Lakin is said to have concocted “464 [TV] episodes, eight movies of the week, and two mini-series.” She wrote for Daniel Boone, Darren McGavin’s The Outsider, Family Affair, The Mod Squad, Medical Center, and Dynasty. Lakin created the 1972-1976 ABC police drama The Rookies, as well as the 1980-1982 NBC prime-time soap opera Flamingo Road.

Lakin eventually departed L.A. for Marin County, in Northern California. There she commenced penning mystery novels starring Gladdy Gold, a septuagenarian private eye in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who regularly calls on her fellow retires for assistance in solving cases. The first entry in that nine-book series was Getting Old Is Murder (2005). In 2009, Getting Old Is a Disaster (2008) won the Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery Novel of the year. Lakin also wrote a 2021 romance novel titled Prince Charming, Go Home and a memoir of her Hollywood years, The Only Woman in the Room (2015).

She was a distinguished 93 years old at the time of her passing.

1 comment:

Todd Mason said...

In several ways, mid-century did seem friendlier than today to freelancers who could Meet the Market very least at the break-in stage...Rest in Glory.