Eryk Pruitt’s Picture of the Criminal South
The common saying would have us believe crime doesn’t pay, but in reality it seems to pay off quite well at times considering how many people are busy with it. Unfortunately for many of those people however, just like with most things in life, plans seldom turn out as they were concocted and fates end up spiraling into the most unexpected directions. Such is the predicament three characters are faced with in Eryk Pruitt’s Hashtag, a hard-boiled Southern noir mystery.
While the three stories in Hashtag are told individually and most apart from one another, they overlap in certain places where time and geography are concerned. The first one has us following Odie Shanks who works at a pizza joint but dreams of going to Hollywood one day. He gets the perfect chance to gain his coveted social media presence when he gets kidnapped and begins roaming the country with an ex-con looking to settle some scores. Meanwhile, the second story follows a lazy deputy, Roy Rains, with the unenviable task of covering up a humiliating crime: the kidnapping of a pizza clerk.
While this is all taking place, an unsuspecting player prepares to enter the fray: Melinda Kendall. Young, on the run, in a stolen car and gun, she steels herself for what will turn into a crime spree, destined to capture the attention of the whole world. Little does she know, however, this will grant her the last thing she ever wanted in life, the thing which Odie Shanks seeks so passionately: attention. On a collision course with the dark paths and poor choices of others, the impending disastrous mess will be one for the ages.
Threads of Chaos
Where most novels would take at least a few chapters to set everything up, Eryk Pruitt dives right into the lion’s den and drags us along with him. The story takes very little to no time before it gets going, and this goes for each of the three tales. The author knows people don’t exactly read thrillers for their slow pace or page-long descriptions, but rather the fast and furious chaos they bring… and he obliges in spades. The webs are spun from the earliest pages and they carry us into a dark world where violence, deceit, obscurantism, and hedonism are simply regular elements of everyday life.
One thing which I enjoyed was the fact the author didn’t try too hard to connect his stories together at every point possible, instead letting them develop organically and overlap whenever it makes sense. As a result, it truly does feel like we are reading three different stories which just happen to intersect, rather than one story told from three perspectives. In my opinion, this little detail helped give the novel a more believable and realistic feeling, and the consequences of the events within more tangible. This especially feels important in the segments where it feels as if the author is making a commentary on the decadent nature of modern fame and notoriety.
With this being said, the realistic aspect only goes so far mostly due to the insane amount of twists, turns, and ridiculous sequences which still manage to sneak up on the reader even if you know they’re coming. It’s the sort of read where you eventually stop trying to predict what curve-ball will be thrown your way next and begin to simply look forward to it; a sort of insanity which pays dividend when accepted rather than scrutinized.
The Dangerous Town
If there is one central element to the three tales, it would be the town of Lake Castor, Virginia. Becoming more or less its own character at this point, once we pass into it through the city limits it feels as if we are entering an unknown and forbidden world which spits on any conventions or preconceived notions we might be carrying with us. Pruitt’s prose is clear, simple, dark and hard, which in itself already colours the town in a sort of bleak mist while also giving it a sharp and dangerous edge. Personally, it was a pleasure learning about how the town operates, their sense of hierarchy, their beliefs and often-questionable morality. While the pace of Hashtag ensures we never spend too much simply reading descriptions of the town’s daily life, the author does a magnificent job at characterizing it through various events, and perhaps more importantly, the words and actions of its inhabitants.
I found the characters in Hashtag to be one of the strongest points for Pruitt brings them to life about as adeptly as anyone possibly could. Whenever we meet anyone, it is easy to instantly form a mental image of their appearance and the general shape of their inner world. As we learn more about them, some of our ideas are either confirmed or challenged and we come to see those people as worthy individuals in their own rights, with their own problems, vices and hopes. While they might not be the friendliest or most welcoming bunch, they are certainly interesting to study from the comfort and safety of your couch.
The Final Verdict
Hashtag by Eryk Pruitt is a violent, unrelenting and captivating noir story of crime in the South, telling three equally-engaging tales of decisions gone drastically wrong. If you enjoy fast thrillers with a furious pace and a dash of amorality thrown in, I highly recommend you give the book a shot.
Eryk Pruitt is a screenwriter, filmmaker and author living in Dunham, North Carolina, who won many awards across various U.S. film festivals with his short movies FOODIE and LIYANA, ON COMMAND. His short story “Knockout” was a finalist for the Derringer Award, while his third novel, titled What We Reckon, has been nominated for the Anthony Award.