Knuckleball, by Tom Pitts … call me old school, but I love it when a story is told in a straightforward manner, without forty pounds of introspection and sixty pounds of fatty narrative. I also prefer stories that reflect life (i.e., real life), where kids are forced to battle demons most parents overlook, where husbands and/or wives cheat on their spouse, where people with the best intentions are too often the victims of their decency, and where the slightest of lies may have the greatest of consequences. Knuckleball features all of the above, which is why I’m so glad I dick around on Facebook enough to occasionally land on a post from a friend or two with a reading recommendation that winds up being the pleasure this one has been.
A good cop, a really good cop, is brutally executed in the city of San Francisco while his partner was busy dealing with personal demons a few blocks away. Somebody sees the killer. Somebody had to have seen the killer, it was in broad daylight out on the streets. Sure people scatter, but …
A young kid at home has to deal with the relentless bullying of an older street punk brother. Their mother works hard just to get bye. There’s no father. There’s no money. There’s no future so long as things remain the same.
Knuckleball features life in a big city with all its virtues and vices. Hugh Patterson is the good cop murdered on the street. Vince Alvarez is his partner. Oscar Flores is a 15-year-old kid and one of the people who witnesses the murder. Ramon Alvarez is Oscar’s bully brother. The novella takes place over a three day/game period between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the home town San Francisco Giants. The murder takes place in The Mission section of Frisco. It is a compelling story.
Knuckleball is verismo opera, where the truth not only hurts, it often survives, whether rightly or wrongly. Knuckleball is a terrific read, and I’ll be reading more of Mr. Pitts in the near future.
George V. Higgins: The Life and Writings, by Erwin H. Ford II … interesting, sad, and an often funny account of the life and times of one of my favorite writers ever, George V. Higgins. If you don’t know how good this guy was, take a look at my sycophantic love for his writing here: Three Masterpieces Etched in Stone (an article I wrote for the Rap Sheet seven years ago) .
Higgins was a single child brought up by educated parents, and although he clung to his Boston Irish roots, including his religion, he wasn’t a slave to the clergy. He did allow his first marriage to a woman with drinking and mental issues to go on way too long because of the antiquated Catholic Church issues regarding divorce, and it bankrupted him more than once. He was also as brilliant as they come, with a vocabulary that required a dictionary at all times. He was a journalist, a prosecutor/lawyer, a writer of novels and non-fiction, an English professor, and one haughty MF’er, especially when forced to deal with liberals (he was more conservative than liberal), but he was also a very loyal friend and an equally loyal enemy when crossed. Higgins eventually drank himself into a deadly heart attack, but the road of his 59 years was colorful and productive. A workhorse with relentless energy, Higgins wrote for 4 hours every morning, had a 3 hour liquid lunch, then returned to write for another 2 hours in the afternoon. He was constantly working to fight off the IRS and keep his boats (literally) afloat. He defended G. Gordon Liddy and Eldridge Cleaver.
Higgins also felt pigeonholed as a crime writer because of the great success he experienced with The Friends of Eddie Coyle (my favorite crime novel ever). Higgins wanted to be lauded as a great literary figure and felt rejected as such. I often found some of his books, much like some of James Ellroy’s works, unreadable, but his first three and a few others later down the road were simply brilliant. Higgins purposely returned to writing crime because his publishers required it for the sake of earning coin. Glad I finally had the chance to read a biography of him … and the truth is, I couldn’t put the book down.
Next In the cue … Joe Clifford’s December Boys: A Jay Porter Novel … review before we leave for New Hampshire and a return to shutter island? You know, the wife has never experienced life on the rock.
Violence? Really? Vicious? Hey, Eugene Robinson, blow it out your ass.