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Carl Kosak’s last story…One final nail-biter by Rocksburg crime novelist K. C. Constantine

Copyright 2023 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Reprinted with permission. The mysterious K.C. Constantine began publishing crime novels in 1972. This photo by John Heller of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was taken in 2011 during the author’s first public appearance at a Festival of Mystery event in Oakmont, Pa.

By Elizabeth Perry

A McKees Rocks mystery writer whose identity was a secret for decades has died.

Carl Kosak, more widely known by his pseudonym K.C. Constantine, created a fictionalized hybrid of McKees Rocks and Greensburg called Rocksburg in his series of novels featuring the character Mario Balzic.

“My father was a very proud Marine and he was very proud to be from McKees Rocks. He was from the Bottoms. He was very proud to be from the Bottoms,” Chris Kosak, his son, said.

Kosak died on March 23 in Greensburg at the age of 88, leaving behind 17 published books from 1972’s “The Rocksburg Railroad Murders,” to 2002’s “Saving Room for Dessert,” and another novel set to be released early next year.

“He was one of the great novelists in America. His books were about the characters in his town, it was a major character,” said Otto Penzler, founder of New York City-based Mysterious Press.

Penzler published 11 of Carl’s books, starting with “Joey’s Case,” in 1988 which was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award. Penzler said Carl hadn’t submitted a new novel in about 20 years, when about 18 months ago a manuscript showed up in the mail, “out of the blue.”

“It came in paper which is something I haven’t seen in 10 years,” Penzler said.

Chris said as brilliant as his father was with writing, he wasn’t adept with new technology.

“I bought him a laptop and installed it for him. Everything was backed up to my cloud drive, I was his first reader, and helped navigate all his problems with Microsoft,” Chris said. “We finished his last book.”

Penzler said Kosak’s book went through several revisions back and forth between editors and author. The story was completed and Mysterious Press offered Kosak a contract. The Monday before Kosak died, he got a deposit for the book, Chris said.

“I am very sad he did not get to see the book published,” Penzler said.

A storied life

Carl Kosak was born in McKees Rocks in 1934 to parents Constantine Kosak and Helen Pravlochak Kosak. Carl Kosak would take his father’s first name as a pen name later in life.

Constantine Kosak was an immigrant; though the country he came from was listed as Russia, Poland, Croatia and Latvia on various legal documents, Chris believes his grandfather was from Vilna, which is now part of Latvia. Constantine Kosak was a founding member of the Pittsburgh Artist’s Guild and worked extensively with the Kaufmann family on a variety of projects including Falling Water and painted billboards for the famous department store.

Constantine Kosak also painted murals in Russian Orthodox Churches in McKees Rocks and Clairton.

“My grandfather stopped going to church when he walked into the McKees Rocks church and saw someone was painting over it. He never went in again,” Chris Kosak said.

While at Stowe Township High School, Carl showed an early talent for baseball and became a catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates during batting practice. According to family lore, Carl would have been signed by the Pirates on graduation day, but he was struck down with appendicitis. Chris has a newspaper clipping of his father being presented with his diploma while lying in bed at Shadyside Hospital.

Carl instead signed with the Orioles after graduation and then bounced around Single, Double and Triple-A leagues in Georgia and Tennessee before coming back to Pennsylvania to play semi-pro ball and attend Westminster College.

He got into some trouble with the law and while in front of a judge, he was given a choice to go to jail or join the Marine Corps, Chris said. While Carl was in the service, he played baseball in the Marines, too.

“Apparently back then that was not very easy to do,” Chris said.