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Knuckleball (One Eye Press Singles) Paperback – March 24, 2015
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"Knuckleball is a bruiser of a story that reads as fast as the title implies, and sits heavy in your mind long after you've read the last page. Pitts obviously knows the darkness of his city's gangland and portrayed here against the light of America's favorite pastime, while showing both sides their proper respect, is nothing short of remarkable. It's classic good and evil, hope and despair, but with Pitts, nothing is ever that cut and dry, and rarely does anyone get away clean. Conversational prose, brilliant ensemble casts, ratcheting tension, and the hint of something unexpected right over the next page is the reason to read Tom Pitts in the first place, but with Knuckleball, I'd say he knocked it out of the park. Top notch." --Brian Panwich, Author of BULL MOUNTAIN
"In Knuckleball, Tom Pitts finds the beating heart of San Francisco's Mission District, then reaches into its chest and rips that heart out. An ambitious and tightly-packed slice of modern crime fiction." --Jordan Harper, Author of LOVE AND OTHER WOUNDS
"A gut-punch of a story written at a blistering pace by a master of street noir. If you dig tales with wire-tight tension, stuffed with characters that massage the margins of life then pick up Mr. Pitts latest work." --Mike McCrary, Author of REMO WENT ROGUE and GETTING UGLY
About the Author
Tom Pitts received his education on the streets of San Francisco. He remains there, working, writing, and trying to survive. His new novel, HUSTLE, and his novella, PIGGYBACK, are available from Snubnose Press. Tom is an acquisitions editor at Gutter Books and editor of the Flash Fiction Offensive. Find links to more of his work at: TomPittsAuthor.com.
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Curious, I went on to check the opening pages of the author's subsequent work. I wasn't wrong--this cat has grown. And the voice I came to love in Knuckleball comes on clear and strong from the get-go, each and every time.
I enjoyed this book immensely--and am thrilled to have had the chance to witness the birth of a stunning new voice.
It is set in San Francisco, during a 3
game series between the Giants, and the
Hugh Patterson is a throw back cop, that
enjoys walking his beat, and getting to know
as many of the people in his area as possible.
He also is a life long Giants fan, and was watching
the first game of the three, through a store window, as
his partner was making a phone call to his wife.
What happened next, forced the SFPD, to follow the procedures
that every Police Dept has, and the interrogations started, as the
mind games began.
Questions, answers, blinks, head turns, lip biting, fingers twitching,
crying...........it all is part of the Psychology of the Interrogation/Interview.
But who is really doing the Mind Games?
There are "tells" in the story........see if you spot them.
Tom Pitts’ excellent novella, “Knuckleball,” is the same type of pitch: so deceptive that it takes the reader by surprise, inducing him to swing at a phantom while the ball sails by unscathed.
To summarize, a policeman, Hugh Patterson, is gunned down in uniform while watching a Giants game in a Mission District taqueria. The cop’s partner, Vince Alvarez, is some distance away when the shooting goes down, trying to raise his wife on his cell phone.
The shooter, a young Latino in a hoodie, a Giants team shirt and dark clothing, disappears into the crowd while Vince struggles to return to the scene. Despite a spate of rumors that emerge afterward – all of which are untrue – there is no clear motive for the crime.
Hugh’s murder convulses the city. Patterson, an obscure patrolman of no particular note, becomes a hero overnight solely by virtue of his inexplicable death. A reward raised for his attacker’s capture is quickly increased several times. He is memorialized on the giant Jumbotron scoreboard at AT&T Park, his 60-foot-high image rendered literally larger than life. The city is plastered with his photo, and the news of his death makes page one in both papers.
Meanwhile, Vince is guilt-ridden over his absence when the shooting occurred and lies about where he was when the shots were fired. Homicide detectives are baffled by his inability to give more than a vague description of the killer and grill him repeatedly about the shooting.
A few days later, Oscar, another young Latino man, identifies his sadistic, depraved brother Ramon as the gunman. He and a Mission District wino pick the brother out of a police lineup. Vince reluctantly goes along with the identification, even though he had not seen the shooter and had no idea who he was.
All this happens in the first third of the novella. The remainder of Pitts’ slim book concerns how the various conflicts work themselves out – or fail to.
The book drips with doom from the opening pages.
Pitts describes Patterson as the ideal police officer, a cop who “loved his uniform, loved his beat. Twice a week he and his partner were required to walk the 24th Street corridor. Only twice a week, Hugh lamented. They would take their time strolling from General Hospital all the way to Guerrero Street, stopping to hand out SFPD stickers to kids, to tell the older men to pour out their beers, and to gather intelligence, what his dad had called street smarts. You have to know your beat, Hugh would tell his partner.”
We hear of Patterson’s halting and only partially successful efforts to speak to Mission residents in their own tongue, his concern about poor and downtrodden residents, his reluctance to collar people for minor infractions, choosing instead to tap them for information that might lead to bigger, more important arrests.
A law enforcement officer so honest, open and responsive to the citizenry he serves can’t last long. Sure enough, Patterson is killed only a few pages into the book.
Pitts’ terse descriptions of the Mission are as clear and accurate as his treatment of the Tenderloin in Hustle.
In the latter book, you could almost smell the sour scent of human piss in the alleyways, the mildew aroma of the vagrants sleeping off a midday drunk in doorways, the reek of Lysol used to mop the cum from the booths in adult bookstores.
In Knuckleball, you can smell the decaying fruit from the bodegas, the spilled beer in the plaza at 16th Street BART, the pungent fat of carnitas cooking in the taco stands and the skunky odor of ganja drifting from the alleys.
This brief novel is classic noir that turns on transgressive behavior: characters screw up, then compound their original mistake while trying to conceal it. Pitts makes it clear that no good deed goes unpunished. In the wake of Patterson’s murder, Alvarez is subjected to hostile questioning by colleagues. Oscar is confronted by a petty criminal for snitching off his violent and despicable sibling while his mother, who cleans up a beauty salon to support the two young men, ignores his complaints about Ramon’s monstrous nature.
Looking back over the storyline, some of the plot developments seem inevitable. But Pitts manages to keep the reader plowing along, driven in large part by the questions: “What makes these people tick? Where is this book taking me next?” That is the nature of true psychological suspense – not a series of cliffhangers designed to artificially push the reader to the end.
Pitts does more in this slim volume than most “art literature” authors can manage in an entire shelf of books.
The book starts with one murder and ends with a second; sandwiched between them is enough pain and stress to fill a psychological treatment manual. Knuckleball is a hell of a story.
Even though you found yourself growing close to a character, do not be surprised if Pitts comes along and pulls the rug out from under you. He refuses to give you a chance to come up for air. He wants you to enjoy being in that dark tunnel and do not expect to find an EXIT sign along the way.
Just sit back and enjoy the ride because Tom Pitts never disappoints. Never!