18 June 2009


The Greek dramatists gave us protagonist, the lead actor or main character. There's not much more you can say than that about Tommy Russo in Jason Starr's Fake I.D (HCC-056). He's the principal figure in the book, as well as the narrator, and you spend a lot of time with him. He's a loathsome sort, one of those completely self-absorbed types who sees all other people as merely levers to open up doors for him. He's also delusional--he thinks people like him, or ought to like him because he's good-looking and charming. He also believes, hilariously so, that owning a racehorse will transform his life. Riches, fame, respect, Hollywood parties, and all the other trappings of celebrity status will magically appear once he joins the exclusive fraternity of horse owners. The guy's a loser. The only thing he has in abundance is chutzpah, and I hesitate to use that lovely Yiddish word because it has a humorous, even likeable connotation for me. And Tommy Russo is neither funny nor likeable. So why write a book about a loser? Lots of novels have heroes, not merely protagonists, but noir fiction is different. You don't have to have good guys. What you have to have is tension. And Mr. Starr does that very well. Fake I.D. both grips you and repels you. The action is simple, direct, linear, and not at all surprising. But it is handled deftly, the suspense building chapter-by-chapter until the shit hits the fan and the protagonist meets his fate. I was reminded of Jim Thompson, especially books like The Killer Inside Me and Pop. 1280, where we go along for the ride with rather unsavory protagonists who seem to think the world exists entirely for them. All three of these works are bleak--you feel like you need a shower when you're done or the psychoses will rub off on you. But they are also surprisingly funny. Sure, it is a dark sort of humor, but that's why they call it noir, no?

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