Fake ID By Jason Starr

Aspiring actor and degenerate gambler Tommy Russo bumps into a smelly guy with a proposition at a race track.  For $10,000, he can buy into a race horse.  After hemming and hawing, Tommy jumps on board.  Trouble is, Tommy doesn’t have $10K.

Instead, he is struggling just to get auditions.  He is picking up women and dumping them after one night in his dumpy apartment.  He does have it sweet as the bouncer at a bar and getting cheap rent in exchange for being a part-time super.  His boss, Frank, thinks of Tommy as a second son, much to the chagrin of his real son.  And a girl likes him, enough to loan him money.

So what does Tommy do?  He robs Frank, robs his girlfriend, blames Frank’s son Gary, and sleeps with Frank’s wife.  Tommy Russo is a douchebag, and he doesn’t care.  He’s going to be a racehorse owner.

Fake ID is a classic Starr tale about a guy who does everything in his power to screw himself royally.  It’s an early effort by Starr, reissued in 2009 by Hard Case Crime.  All the familiar elements of Starr’s work are in place:  The protag who digs himself a hole he can’t get out of, the lies the protag tells to cover mistakes, and the woman who stands by him despite being used as a doormat.

However, in Starr’s later work, the protag is usually somewhat sympathetic, often a guy struggling to get by who catches a bad break who manages to make it worse, often fatally.  In this one, Tommy Russo is unlikeable from the beginning.  He’s charming to a point, but after he steals from someone for a second time, you realize Russo is an total degenerate.

Read this for Starr’s brilliant style and ability to put the reader in a world of bleak despair.  The one thing that would improve it is a protag I could actually root for.  For Tommy Russo, I kept shaking my head and saying out loud, “What are you?  Stupid?”

That, of course, was the point.