Sunday, June 28, 2009

Review of Hard Feelings

You can divide Jason Starr's novels pretty easily into his early work and his later, more commercial work. His earlier novels are noir stories of doomed characters who are painfully oblivious to their own inevitable destruction, while his more recent work has been more slick and commercial, even if he hasn't quite been able to bring himself to write a happy ending yet. Fake I.D. (Hard Case Crime, 2009) is Starr's third novel, coming between Nothing Personal, and the award winning Hard Feelings, the novel that put Starr on the map. It definitely belongs to Starr's early period.

Fake I.D., which has never appeared in the U.S. before, has a lot in common with Hard Feelings, but it's not quite as accomplished. Tommy Russo is a bartender who wants to be an actor and has a gambling problem. When he is approached by an acquaintance about joining a syndicate to purchase a race horse, he jumps at the chance. Only, Tommy doesn't have the ten thousand dollars needed for the buy in. To get it, he will betray everyone who trusts him.

Russo, unlike Richie Segal in Hard Feelings, does not garner any sympathy from the reader. In Hard Feelings, Segal's downward spiral is precipitated by a face to face encounter with an old acquaintence who molested him. Russo, on the other hand, is narcissistic to a frightening extent without any mitigating factors. He is so repellant that he may make some readers uncomfortable, which is not a criticism, so much as it is a recognition of the fact that Starr is really very good at getting inside the heads of abberant individuals. It's not too difficult to see why this novel would have made U.S. publishers squirm.

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