MysteryPeople Review: HUSTLE and KNUCKLEBALL by Tom Pitts

– Review by Scott Montgomery, Crime Fiction Coordinator

M any crime fiction writers look at the underbelly of society. Tom Pitts sees that underbelly as its own society. His work follows people pushed to the edges, forced to create their own collective. This can be seen in two of his latest, Hustle and Knuckleball.

Hustle might be his most personal novel work to date. It is set in the world of Tenderloin male hustlers, focusing on Donny and Big Rich, who want to break from the streets and their addiction, yet feel they are trapped in both. They see their way out by blackmailing Gabriel Thaxton, a high powered San Francisco lawyer. It turns out a psychopathic speed freak, Dustin, has a bigger bite on Thaxton, and Donny and Rich’s scheme pulls them into a the crossfire between him and Bear, an ex-biker Thaxton has hired to take care of the situation.

Pitts, a former addict, gives us a world he has experienced living in. From the dive bars Bear operates in, the cheap hotels the boys live in, and the business ones they work in, he depicts a daily grind of passionless sex and highs that you chase just to feel even. It can also turn dangerous as the crime Donny and Big Rich become involved in, as shown with one harrowing trick. He also looks at the tight clique these young men have, scoring together and watching each others backs. It’s that camaraderie that the reader can place their compassion in.

Pitt’s novella, Knuckleball, is less about a group than how disparate individuals can effect each other and the community they share without essentially being aware it. The book is divided into chapters for each game in a weekend series between the Giants and Dodgers that rallies San Francisco for a common cause. On the first day a rift is created when a patrolman is shot. The crime divides the city by ethnicity, class, cop and criminals, drawing in the investigating detective, the victim’s partner who was suspiciously not around during the shooting, and Oscar Flores, a fifteen year old baseball fan living in lower income housing with a single mom and sadistic banger brother who witnessed the crime and is out for his own justice.

Knuckleball gives a sharp representation of lower and working class San Francisco. It’s an area pushed together where police and those they have arrested have to deal with one another on the streets daily and where an event can build or unite a community. We see how that connectivity can be a fuse.

Tom Pitts speaks for the lost and abandoned of San Francisco on their terms. Their situations are rough yet shared in a community they either try to escape or survive in, often clashing with another one of the city’s sub groups. The results may not be pretty, but they are engaging and human.

You can find copies of Pitt’s novels on our shelves, via special order, and via

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