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Has#tag: A Crime Story


Has#tag: A Crime Story

One of the true pleasures of reading is discovering a new author who seems to come out of nowhere to surprise and delight you. Last summer, I heard a man from Durham, North Carolina, do a reading in Greenwich Village. I was intrigued enough that I immediately ordered his latest novel. I was not disappointed.

HAS#TAG came out in the late spring. Its author, Eryk Pruitt, is a short story writer, filmmaker and scriptwriter born, raised and educated in East Texas. His short movie, Foodie, won eight top awards in 16 film festivals.

From Frank and Jesse James to Bonnie and Clyde, the American South has produced its share of desperate gunslingers and criminals. And in fiction, the South has produced such great desperados as Lou Ford and Doc McCoy and lawmen like Raylan Givens.

Pruitt has written a book that bears positive comparison to early noir masters like Jim Thompson. His skill at creating quirky characters and losers is reminiscent of mystery writers like Elmore Leonard. And his storytelling ability to juggle multiple plot lines in an entertaining way reminds me of a young Quentin Tarantino. Pruitt is a mystery writer on the rise, already one of our best southern fiction writers.

"Think of Elmore Leonard’s great stories set in the south, and you will get a sense of Pruitt’s style. This is a great ride, and even if all roads do not lead to Rome or Biloxi, some of these characters will have to meet up, perhaps in ways they never expected."

HAS#TAG is a story about desperate people making disastrous choices and living frustrated lives in an amusing way. Odie Shanks is stuck as a pizza parlor manager in the little town of Lake Castor, Virginia, sleeping with his boss and not happy about it. But he is a man with a dream. He encounters Jake Armstrong, who is just out of prison, and confides in him, “I always wanted to be a Hollywood actor. I always wanted to be in the movies.”

Jake is a dangerous man with scores to settle with people in his past, and he could use a partner. The idea develops that they will rob the pizza parlor but stage it so that it looks like Odie was kidnapped and taken hostage by the bandit. This will give Odie the publicity he needs to make it famous in Hollywood. In the meantime, they will hit the road, robbing their way to California. Nobody ever accused these guys of being brain surgeons.

Bodies fall, payback is bloody and convenience stores are robbed, but somehow the kidnapping of Odie does not make the news. Enter Deputy Roy Rains, the local law in Lake Castor. Here is some of the most enjoyable writing in the book as Pruitt seems to channel the great Jim Thompson. Besides being lazy, Rains is not above breaking the law when it suits him, which is often. Most of all, he wants to be left alone, as do the town fathers, who bear more than a passing resemblance to the White Citizens’ Councils and KKK that used to run the south and would rather that history stay buried.

As Jake drags hapless Odie along on his violent mission, a college girl named Melinda Kendell with a perfect 4.0 GPA is making big news, as she works her way across the highways of the South. After getting slipped a mickey by a guy and letting her drug-dealing boyfriend’s entire stash get stolen, she escapes from him with the aid of a baseball bat. She then hits the road with a .22 and a stolen car. She is the type of girl with whom men automatically assume they can have sex. So she becomes adept at using that knowledge to rob them, tie them up and let them contemplate where fish hooks can be placed.

Pruitt writes, “She had been making mistakes for a while now, starting with skipping a literature class during her Freshman year, which led to her running into Sam Tuley, and culminating into Friday morning, the day she’d hightailed it out of Nacogdoches. With the little college town in Deep East Texas in her rearview, she replayed the events of her downfall, wincing with each bad decision she made. She watched the horror unfold and knew that there was no undoing what had been done.”

That is about as good a description of noir as exists. One wrong move and you are in trouble. Pruitt also mixes in a satire about our insatiable desire for news and social media. While Melinda becomes “Sweet Melinda” on the lead story in the TV news, Odie keeps googling himself every chance he gets but comes up with nothing. Pruitt writes: “Odie wasn’t having it. ‘You know, there is some girl running all over Mississippi, stealing cars and beating the s___ out of guys, taking their wallets. Everybody is talking about her… On Twitter she has her own hashtag for Christ’s sake…there don’t seem to be anybody in the world curious about what happened to ol’ Odie Shanks.’”

Think of Elmore Leonard’s great stories set in the south, and you will get a sense of Pruitt’s style. This is a great ride, and even if all roads do not lead to Rome or Biloxi, some of these characters will have to meet up, perhaps in ways they never expected. In noir, sometimes you get the fate you deserve, while at other times something completely else comes your way.

If you want to see Sweet Melinda, there is a hilarious 2:30 video on And you can catch “Foodie” for free on YouTube. According to Pruitt, he has written the screenplay for HAS#TAG. Somebody needs to produce it soon. It would be a wonderful movie, as Pruitt is the real deal. HAS#TAG might be the first book of his that you read, but it likely will not be the last.

Reviewed by Tom Callahan on November 6, 2015

Has#tag: A Crime Story
by Eryk Pruitt

  • Publication Date: May 26, 2015
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: 280 Steps
  • ISBN-10: 8293326506
  • ISBN-13: 9788293326502