Reviews > Published on April 3rd, 2015

Bookshots: ‘Knuckleball’ by Tom Pitts

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review



Who Wrote It?

San Francisco based crime writer, Tom Pitts.

What Pitts is able to do within the length is breathtaking and the pacing is relentless.

Plot in a Box:

San Francisco is gearing up for a three game series between California state rivals the L.A. Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants when cop and all around good guy (I’m not being sarcastic, he’s a decent dude, and the kind of person you want to become a cop), Hugh Patterson, is viciously gunned down. What follows is the investigation into Patterson’s death where his entire beat—including his partner—are suspects.

Invent a New Title For This Book:

Thicker Than Blood

Read This If You Liked:

Anything by Dennis Lehane

Meet the Book’s Lead(s):

Hugh Patterson: All around nice guy, police officer who only wants serve his community, victim.

Vince Alvarez: Patterson’s overly distracted partner, who only wants to move up in the ranks so he can spend more time with his wife.

Oscar Flores: The primary “witness” to Patterson’s murder, a man with a vicious secret to hide.

Said Lead(s) Would Be Portrayed In a Movie By:

Patterson would definitely be played by Chris Evans. Michael Peña would work as Alvarez, and you’d have to go with an unknown teenaged actor to play Flores.

Setting: Would You Want to Live There?

San Francisco, only if I had a couple billion in the kick. But otherwise, no.

What Was Your Favorite Sentence?

It only took one bullet to put down Officer Hugh Patterson. It was unnecessary to pump an extra four into his head. The blood flow from a wound like that—when the head is opened up while the heart is still beating—is enormous. It was flowing so fast that the puddle of blood had a ripple. It snaked down toward the gutter, slick and almost black. He lay there, still, not a shudder, not a chance. There was brain matter and skull fragments yards away. An explosion of blood and hair. For the last shot, the killer had to bend down and put the gun under Hugh’s chin, turning the top of his head into a volcano.

The Verdict:

I should start by saying that I’m not a baseball fan. Yeah, yeah, yeah, American pastime, blah, blah, blah. For me it’s a boring game unless I’m in the bleachers and drunk off my ass. And considering that I more or less quit drinking, the game simply has no appeal for me anymore. Go ahead and call me a commie if you want, I’m okay with it. Thankfully Pitts only uses baseball—more specifically a three game series between longtime state rivals the L.A. Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants—as the framework (and as an escapist metaphor) for an extremely dark urban crime novella.

Pitts is very much of the Chandler/Ross McDonald American hardboiled tradition—more or less hard charging plots with a stiff conservation of language. (This is, of course, only judging from Pitts’ short fiction and his first novella, Piggyback. I’ve yet to delve into his full length novel, Hustle, but that’s something I’ll hopefully soon remedy.) Of course, this isn’t a bad thing when I want something lean and mean. With Knuckleball, Pitts demonstrates some real complexity in his storytelling, with a deft interweaving of narrators and perspectives. He easily flashes between his primary characters leading up to the death of Patterson and the rapid-fire investigation that follows. And the frame work of the baseball series actually works very well in tying the story together, as opposed to distracting from it, which could’ve easily happened.

I will say I felt the 120 some-odd pages of Knuckleball actually did the story a bit of disservice (considering how much I like the novella form, it’s pretty hard for me to say that), because these characters were meant to be played with. I would have really enjoyed learning more about what drove Patterson to discover why civil service meant so much to him. Why is Alvarez so obsessed with his wife and why, exactly, is he being so heavily investigated in the death of his own partner? And most importantly, I wanted Pitts to delve deeper into his teenage protagonist, Oscar Flores, and his chaotic, abusive relationship with his brother Ramon. It’s not that there isn’t ample character development, but considering the overall complexity of the storyline, Knuckleball could have easily filled out a 250 page novel.

Now don’t take that as a negative, because what Pitts is able to do within the length is breathtaking and the pacing is relentless, which makes Knuckleball an engrossing experience. Overall, if you’re looking for a hard charging, one sitting read with some real soul to it, Knuckleball is going to be right in your wheelhouse.

About the author

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift. He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

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