Book Quote:

“I was out of control – what can I say? But I have some good news – I won at the track with your money and I can pay you back for everything.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Daniel Luft (JUN 01, 2009)

Don’t let the retro-noir painting on the cover of Fake I.D. fool you, this is not one of those old books from the fifties that Hard Case Crime has rediscovered. It’s a smart, mean-spirited little tale of addiction and rage from Jason Starr who is one of the most under-read authors of the last fifteen years. But then this book isn’t really new either. It was originally published in England back in 2000 and has been quite easy to find in the U.K. ever since. It’s even had a successful life in German translation under the name Top Job but none of Starr’s publishers in his own hometown of New York would publish it until now.

Since Starr isn’t as widely read as he should be, a little background may be in order. His first novel, Cold Caller, from 1998, is the book that Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho failed to be. It is a darkly funny and very nasty tale of a downsized ad executive who is forced to take a job as a cold caller in a cramped office space. Soon he is stunned to find out he is fired again. He kills his boss and several others as he indignantly races through privileged Manhattan – the world that should have been his – as he plans his next move that will surely make everything alright. It is both an edge-of-your-seat thriller and a wonderful satire of a New York yuppie going very, very bad.

Since then, Starr’s specialty is the down-on-his-luck thirty-something character who has dreams and goals that are just not working out. Their misdeeds and mania come not just from their own failures or from circumstances beyond their control but from an overriding sense of privilege inside of them, a sense that they deserve better than what they have. These protagonists lead to Starr being compared to classic noir writers like Jim Thompson and David Goodis but his characters also seem descended from the works of Patricia Highsmith. Like Highsmith’s most famous character, Tom Ripley, Starr’s protagonists have seamlessly blended into society only to strike against some unsuspecting victims. These low-rent Ripleys have lives that are almost going well and perhaps their inner demons would have never risen up except that they experience a few bad breaks or perhaps a pure coincidence.

Fake I.D. concerns Tommy Russo, a bar bouncer and would-be actor with a serious gambling addiction. On his day off from work he runs into fellow gambler Pete Logan who offers him a chance to become a fifth investor in a race horse for $10,000. Tommy has always wanted to be a big shot in the world of gambling and would love to be an investor. His problem though is that he is flat broke with maxed out credit cards. So as the idea of owning a race horse stews in his head for a couple days he notices all the money that is available to him. All he has to do is steal it.

Starr describes the nervous world of a gambling addict quite well. The little indignities Tommy experiences while gambling, the massive lies he tells himself and the leaps of logic that he makes to prove to himself that he’s alright are believably told by the author. Tommy constantly assures himself that his angry outbursts are all for legitimate reasons and that stealing money from the people who trust him is simply something that has to be done to get what he needs. It is thrilling and horrifying watching Tommy live in the world of his job right next to his binges of gambling. The scenes of him hopping a plane to Vegas for a one-day gambling trip is both the best part of the book and the hardest to read:

“I went across the street to the Flamingo. I bought two thousand bucks in chips and went right to the craps table, blowing a grand in fifteen minutes. Before things got really out of control, I got up and started playing blackjack again. I didn’t like the dealer at the table I was sitting at – he was smiling and joking around too much – so I walked around and found a table with an empty seat in the anchor slot. My chip pile was shrinking, but I guess my jet lag was starting to catch up with me because I was too tired to walk anymore.”

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Tommy the narrator is an exhibitionist about his gambling. Readers may be left feeling uncomfortable and in need of a shower after listening to him.

It is this addiction, coupled with a big chance to own a racehorse, which fuels the plot. And Tommy uses up everyone’s trust and hope for him as he steals from a potential girlfriend and then his boss to get the money he needs to invest in the horse. Starr writes from Tommy’s addicted point of view and the book zips along with a sweaty sense of desperation and inevitable doom.

The second half of the book loses its way a bit as Tommy descends into even more sociopathic behavior. There is murder and there is rage and there are several subplots introduced that are left dangling including a homicide cop who Tommy knows from high school and a new, potential girlfriend arriving in the bar. Starr ends up with more elements than he can use in a 250 page book. These plots twists are clichéd devices that Starr didn’t need; the mind of a desperate gambling addict could have easily carried this book on its own. It’s almost like Starr didn’t trust his own writing skills.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 12 readers
PUBLISHER: Hard Case Crime (May 26, 2009)
REVIEWER: Daniel Luft


With Ken Bruen:

  • (May 2006)
  • (October 2007)
  • (August 2008)

June 1, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Drift-of-Life, Noir

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