November 25, 2015

Swinging Big: a review of Tom Pitts' "Knuckleball"

Knuckleball
by Tom Pitts
One Eye Press (2015)
130 pages
Available at Amazon.com

I am not a baseball fan. Of all the pro sports out there, baseball ranks only slighter higher than golf among things I find more fun than watching paint dry. That said, baseball really does lend itself to a good story. And that's what Tom Pitts has here: a real good story.

A week-long series between to the San Francisco Giants and the visiting L.A. Dodgers serves as the backdrop for this novella, with a police officer killed via gunshot to the head at point blank range on the sidewalk of San Fran's 24th Street corridor. Hugh Patterson was his name. Nothing really special about the guy, aside from his abiding love of baseball and an inate ability to connect with members of the community. Or at least try to. His partner on patrol, Vince Alvarez, should've been by side when the killer struck, but Vince was at the end of the block calling his wife out of jealous suspicions. When he heard the shots, it was too late and the crowd had already formed camouflaging the killer from detection.

In the wake of the grizzly murder, Patterson's name is hoisted upon a pedestal by the city, particularly at the baseball games, while Alvarez must try to make sense of the crime and cover his own ass when detectives grill him on his lies about being there to witness it yet unable to I.D. the killer. Enter a young Latino kid named Oscar who has stepped forward to name his own abusive brother, Ramon, as the killer. And Alvarez takes the opportunity to back the kids story. From there the house of cards builds, the tension mounts, and bad choices after bad choices pile onto one another until things threaten to collapse under their own weight.

Jumping from the point of view of Alvarez and Oscar through much of the book, Pitts shows the fears and frailties of each in the face of a horrific crime and how the aftermath lingers over that section of the city. What lives aren't ruined are irrevocably altered and Pitts does a fine job in presenting it all with genuine characters and a snapshot of San Francisco you'd swear was a picture book at times with how well Pitts lays into the descriptions. Plus, just as a reader with an aversion to the dry delivery of many police procedurals, Pitts' delivery thankfully spends its primary focus on delivering those rich, reach-out-and-grab-them experiences.

Again, I'm no fan of baseball, but I could easily become a fan of Tom Pitts thanks to this book.

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