American Static by Tom Pitts

You ever have one of those days where you step out of a San Francisco-bound bus to grab a smoke and you get mugged by two guys who steal your backpack that has everything in it, I mean everything, your wallet, phone, clothes, and a couple pounds of weed? Well, that’s how Steven’s day goes when we meet him in Tom Pitts’ American Static (Down & Out Books). Beaten and lying on the ground, Steven looks up and meets Quinn, a rather handsome man who offers to help Steven out. Against his better judgment, Steven accepts the help. They grab a bite to eat and then chase down the bus.

Inside the bus, Quinn walked down the aisle, looking from left to right. About two-thirds of the way back he saw two young Hispanic kids. The one closest to the window had a backpack clutched to his chest. They made eye contact. Quinn studied them for a moment, then winked. Both boys furrowed their brows. Quinn turned and walked off the bus.

Steven watched Quinn walk back empty-handed, giving his shoulders a small shrug. Before he got back in the truck, Quinn pulled the .45 from behind his back and handed it across the seat to Steven, telling him to return it to the glove box. With a grunt he climbed back behind the wheel.
“They ain’t on there.”
“You sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. They’re probably still in Willits, laying low and waiting for the next bus back north.”
“Sorry, kid. I did what I could. Now what do you want to do?”

With nothing to do and nowhere to go, Steven joins Quinn on his quest to find his daughter in San Francisco. Unknown to Steven, their journey to the Bay Area leaves a wake of dead bodies and abandoned stolen cars. And when they reach The City, the violence gets amped up.

With a handful of third-person narrators, Pitts skillfully orchestrates the plot and pace which in lesser hands would have been a mess. Pitts’ writing in American Static is fucking top-notch, often noir and poetic at the same time.

He’d completely given over to the sensation that his fate was out of his hands. He felt like an old Styrofoam cup bobbing up and down in a turbulent ocean. Playing over in his mind regrets of ever taking the weed and heading out for the city, he went through each detail as though he could have changed his fate.

Over a few frantic days, we follow Quinn and Steven as we try to figure out why this woman is so important and guess who the bad guys really are. Much more than a cat-and-mouse game, Pitts’ well-written American Static is a marvelous crime thriller that looks at the city’s intersections of drugs,  homeless youth, violent thugs, dirty cops and crooked politicians.

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