Pitts, Tom. Knuckleball. Charleston: One Eye Press, 2015. EPUB file.
Reviewed by RJ Cresswell
Tom Pitts lives in San Francisco where he writes well-regarded crime fiction like the books Piggyback and Hustle. He is also an acquisitions editor at Gutter Books, and the co-editor of Out of the Gutter’s Flash Fiction Offensive. His latest work, Knuckleball, is a novella that will be published as part of the One Eye Press Singles series.
Dyer Wilk created the cover art, and it features a beat cop in the midground lying prone on the streets. In the background, a blurry San Francisco cityscape looms over the scene. In the center of the foreground, a tattered baseball rests as still as the corpse behind it. At the top of the page, a blurb promises the reader a fast and heavy story.
Knuckleball is indeed a fast read, a novella that one could easily consume in a sitting or two. Likewise, the book deals with heavy subjects like senseless violence, abuse, infidelity, and the morality of extralegal justice.
The story centers around the murder of an idealistic cop named Hugh Patterson who is executed on the streets of the Mission District while watching a baseball game between the Giants and the Dodgers. There are several ways a story like this could be written. Pitts chose to explore the lives and choices of the characters that were affected by the murder: the victim’s guilt-ridden partner, unreliable witnesses with questionable motives, a detective who’s eager to solve the crime, and the citizens of a city who want to see justice served just as much as they want the Giants to win the series.
It’s hard to review a book with a setting that’s shaded by baseball without succumbing to the temptation to somehow compare it to the sport. Like a commentator, Pitts announces the play-by-play of his narrative in a conversational tone that’s engaging and easy to follow. But for this reader, the title Knuckleball suggests a slower-paced story that is unpredictable. Nevertheless, Pitts didn’t write a mystery, and for its merits, the plot is a bit obvious. Given the book’s brevity and subject matter, more appropriate titles might be Fastball or Hardball.
Ultimately, Knuckleball is a decent read. I wouldn’t write that Pitts hit a homer, but he didn’t strike out either. Knuckleball is a solid base hit – a double even. And one could easily view the book as a minor league exhibition game that proves Pitts is capable of writing a good story and perhaps even playing in the majors one day.
Fall 2015 Reviews
By Vero Caravetta
Waiting for the Machines to Wake Up edited by Peter Oberg and Andreas Raninger
Twenty-six short stories from the new wave of Swedish speculative fiction writers are collected in this volume. Ranging from horror to post-apocalyptic scenarios to character driven pieces, this collection also includes steampunk stories, tales of androids, goblins, and more. You’ll be excited by the action and thrilled with the prose. The detail and the character driven nature of many of the stories will please readers of good fiction.
Stories cover the range of detail: A sci-fi horror story about controllable wormholes, a piece about a virus that makes the infected emotional and weak. He has been asked to help figure out a solution to get rid of the rats that live in the cities, a story about a future society where machines are alive, a steampunk story about a market in Skrivsjö and mechanical horses, an interesting alternate history story about alchemy and science in England. There are lots more and all are worth a read.
The Lynch Pin by Jeffrey B. Burton
Special Agent Drew Cady has left Washington, D.C., and the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division (CID). On the mend physically and emotionally, he now helps run his fiancée’s northern Minnesota resort while working part-time on the FBI’s Medicare Fraud Strike Force. Cady is happy with his new and slower life. Then, a young woman’s body with a strange characteristic is pulled from Lake Superior outside of Duluth and Cady is enlisted to investigate. Other complications make Cady’s life more interesting than he’d like. But he does his job. The storyline is complex and that characters are well drawn – all of which will keep readers turning pages.
Blood Sweep by Steven F. Havill
Fifteen-year-old Francisco Guzman, a gifted and internationally renowned concert pianist, tours the world under the sponsorship of his music conservatory. His mother, Posadas County Undersheriff Estelle Reyes-Guzman, already has plenty to worry about and now she adds her son, especially when she find out that he’s in Mexico’s crime-ridden Mazatlan for a concert series. Her worries increase when her uncle surfaces in an attempt to mend fences but leaves a trail of bodies in his wake. Events escalate until Estelle has her hands full and finds little help. A compelling, well written read that will keep you up all night.
Mystery of the Dinner Playhouse by Mike Befeler
Retired detective Gabe Tremont struggles to find something to do with his retirement. His wife suggests plenty and also plans a night out at a mystery dinner playhouse. When a staged murder turns into a real poisoning, Gabe knows what he wants to do in retirement. He quickly discovers the director, the cast, and someone from a rival theater all have reasons to want the victim dead. This is another fun read from Befeler who has turned out some interesting work.
Collar Robber by Hillary Bell Locke
This adventure involving Loss Prevention Specialist Jay Davidovich is a wild ride. A fifty-million dollar painting is at the center of this crime novel as well as lots more. Davidovish is joined by another of the author’s protagonists, Cynthia Jakubek and this makes it all that much more interesting. A read you won’t want to miss.
Three by Pierre LeMaitre
Pierre Lemaitre is known for writing crime fiction that is intense, complicated, unconventional, and character driven. In Irene Lemaitre uses five contemporary and classic literary murder scenes–from William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw to Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho–as the framework on which he structures the prequel to his Dagger Award-winning novel Alex. The diminutive Camille Verhoeven is in a place of contentment with a good job, a good marriage, and a child on the way. When a new murder case hits his desk,it is so extreme, it alarms department vererans and fills Verhoeven with fear. It quickly becomes clear that he is facing a serial killer. Verhoeven discovers that the murders are modeled after the exploits of serial killers from classic works of crime fiction. Now Verhoeven must find the killer before he strikes at Verhoeven and those he loves.
Judges for the 2013 Crime Writers Association International Dagger Award, had this to say about Alex “An original and absorbing ability to leash incredulity in the name of the fictional contract between author and reader… A police procedural, a thriller against time, a race between hunted and hunter, and a whydunnit, written from multiple points of view that explore several apparently parallel stories which finally meet.” It’s quite a feat and not to be missed.
In his novels Alex and Irène, Lemaitre created Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven. In this volume Verhoeven faces his most harrowing case, and a frightening set of circumstances. Anne Forestier finds herself trapped in the middle of a bank robbery. Shot three times, she survives and remembers the face of her assailant. In grave danger, she has one advantage: Verhoeven. Another intense work of crime fiction that will keep you awake at night.
Just You Wait by Jane Tesh
P.I. David Randall invites his psychic friend Camden into a case he’s working. An aging local actress has been reported missing. The Parkland PD doesn’t like Randall doing his own investigating but he does anyway. As they search, Cam advises Finley to check the basement where they find Viola planted in the dirt. Now they’ve got to find out who’d do such a dastardly thing. Cam goes undercover at the theater. A romantic cozy, this book gives the reader what it promises – thrills and romance. There’s a lot of action in this entertaining novel and you’ll have to read it to find out just how much.
Murder on the Ile Sordou by M.L. Longwort
M. L. Longworth’s books will enchant mystery lovers while giving them plenty of food and landscapes to read about. In Murder on the Île Sordou, Judge Antoine Verlaque and law professor Marine Bonnet, would like to enjoy a relaxing holiday at the Locanda Sordou, an elegant hotel reopening after decades, but someone has other plans, murderous plans. Murder on the Île Sordou is a literary travelogue with a mystery at its core.
The Sirena Quest by Michael A. Kahn
Sirena vanished in 1959. Barrett College’s legendary Greco-Roman sculpture’s fate was still a topic of discussion in 1970 as four roommates began their freshman year at the New England school. More than twenty years later, as the 1994 graduating class gets ready to spread wits wings, the four students from 1970 and many others accept a challenge from a member of the class of 1959 – find Sirena and win the school and the finder a rich prize. The race is on and readers will find it more exciting and fun than they might expect.
The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison
The author of A Walk Across the Sun, has produced another powerful work and this one takes readers around the world from Lusaka, Zambia, to Washington, D.C., to Victoria Falls and Cape Town. Zoe Fleming, a young human rights attorney, has made a life for herself in Zambia, far from her father, an American businessman with presidential aspirations, and from her past. But when a young girl with Down syndrome is sexually assaulted in Lusaka, Zoe joins in investigating the rape. As with all good novels, this is just the beginning of her quest for the truth. This is a book that will keep your attention.
Method 15/33 by Shannon Kirk
A pregnant 16-year-old is shoved into a dirty van and is kidnapped but does she break? Instead, she stays calm in order to save her child and plot revenge. She plots with precision and in Method 15/33 readers see what happens when the victim is is more than a match for her captors. This is a psychological thriller – exciting, surprising, and a good read.
Nantucket Five Spot by Steven Axelrod
Henry Kennis, Nantucket island’s poetry-writing police chief takes on a challenging case in Nantucket Five-spot. The summer tourist season brings with it a threat to bomb the annual Boston Pops Concert which would destroy the island’s economy, along with its reputation as a safe summer vacation spot. All the big players arrive to untangle the plot threatening the resort. The truth of the situation is much more surprising and involved than Kennis and others suspect. Thrills and suspense make this a good book to take with you to your favorite chair.
Cooler than Blood by Robert Lane
Jenny Spencer goes missing after an encounter on a beach. PI Jake Travis is called in by Jenny’s aunt, Susan Blake. Jake, though attracted to Susan is committed to Kathleen but this makes for a bump in the investigative road. Jake and his partner, Garrett Demarcus, discover that Kathleen’s ties to organized crime and Jenny’s life are connected. This is just where the problems start and the book gets interesting. A fun, thriller of a read.
Where the Bones are Buried by Jeanne Matthews
Dinah Pelerin, living in Berlin with her boyfriend, has landed a job teaching about Native American cultures at the university. When her Seminole mother, Swan, shows up with a scheme to blackmail a German tax dodger she also dredges up a secret Dinah has kept hidden from the IRS and from her boyfriend, a former cop now an international agent of a secret sort. Well plotted with characters you won’t forget, this book will be one you won’t want to miss.