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Joey's Case Characters

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The characters in Joey's Case may be divided into those present in earlier books and those newly introduced. In Joey's Case the usual non-suspects are rounded up: the lawyer Mo Valcanas, the priest Father Marrazo, the barkeeper Dom Muscotti, Balzic's mother and his wife Ruth, and secondary figures, such as Police Sgt. Stramsky and the drunk Iron City Steve. While part of the interest in a series normally comes from finding out more about the recurrent characters, in this work there is little new material presented about most of the old faces. They serve their usual functions of reflecting the theme, helping the plot, and providing depth of "local color." For example, Mo Valcanas serves once again as a kind of Greek chorus-character, broadening the book's thematic aspects, especially when he tells the story of a client, a woman who wants a divorce.

This woman is married to a conventionally good husband but, after reading feminist literature, she feels sexually unfulfilled. Valcanas believes that there is not enough money to support two households, and that his wife should learn to fulfill her own sexual desires:

If she doesn't know how to get herself off, how's she supposed to show her husband how to do it? And if she can't show him, then what the hell's the point of divorcin' him?. . . sometimes you have to consider the social scheme of things . . .

While this story may seem to be an attack on feminism, or irrelevant to the main story, it is actually neither. Just as sexual maladjustment underlies the murder, so in the case of Valcanas's client sexual problems take precedence over "the social scheme," making the thematic point that individual psychology may be more useful than sociology in understanding crime and social disruption.

There are two exceptions to the general lack of development of the personal stories of the recurrent characters. There are new problems that Father Marrazo faces when his long established housekeeper is replaced by the dominating incompetent, Mrs. Dombrisky, who has been irrevocably assigned to him by the Bishop. The priest, who represents a celibate variation of the issue of sexual/psychological motivation for crime, contemplates killing his housekeeper.

More significantly, the relationship between Mario and his wife Ruth, placed under pressure by his impotence, develops so as to provide further understanding of Mario and his marriage. Ruth, who is generally a remarkably admirable woman, justifiably feels hurt by Mario's blaming her for the problem. By the end of the story she manages to make him understand this. Balzic is a slow learner, "a stonehead, a real capo tost," as Ruth says, but under her tutelage he is capable of reducing his masculine self-centered egotism. He says (with an unconscious pun), "Oh Christ, Ruth. I'll never keep it up;" but she replies "Yes, you will... yes you will."

There is a large cast of characters who make brief appearances, and it is an indication of Constantine's craftsmanship that the reader can keep them straight. In large measure this is because of his skill with dialogue; the characters are defined by their speech. A number of the new characters are fairly "conventional," in the sense that while they are individualized they are stock necessities of the plot. There is the totally incompetent state trooper Helfrick, kept on the force because he "looked like a state cop," now hanging on until he gets his pension, whose mishandling of evidence provides the starting point of the plot. There is a sympathetic African American Assistant District Attorney, Horace Machlin, and a competent judge, Milan Vrbanic.

There are also characters involved in adulterous affairs, the victim Joey, his father, who draws Balzic into the case, and the murderer. Except for Joey, who is dead at the start of the story, these figures are all presented effectively and economically, mainly...

(The entire section is 963 words.)