Starr, Jason 1966-
Starr, Jason 1966-
PERSONAL: Born November 22, 1966, in Brooklyn, NY; married; children: one daughter. Education: Binghampton University, B.A., 1988; Brooklyn College, M.F.A., 1990. Hobbies and other interests: Movies, sports, travel.
CAREER: Writer. Richmond Review (online literary magazine), editor. Has worked as a telemarketer.
AWARDS, HONORS: Barry Award for best paperback, 2004, for Tough Luck; Anthony Award, Boucheron World Mystery, 2005, for Twisted City.
Cold Caller, Norton (New York, NY), 1998.
Nothing Personal, No Exit Press (Harpenden, England), 1998.
Fake I.D., No Exit Press (Harpenden, England), 2000.
Hard Feelings, Vintage (New York, NY), 2002.
Tough Luck, Vintage (New York, NY), 2003.
Twisted City, Vintage (New York, NY), 2004.
Lights Out, St. Martin’s Press (New York, NY), 2006.
(With Ken Bruen) Bust, Hard Case Crime (New York, NY), 2006.
(With Ken Bruen) Slide, Hard Case Crime (New York, NY), 2007.
The Follower, St. Martin’s Minotaur (New York, NY), 2007.
October Squall (screenplay), 2004.
(Editor, with Maggie Estep) Bloodlines: A Horse Racing Anthology, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to business magazines, including Financial World and Crain’s New York Business; short stories have appeared in the Barcelona Review, Richmond Review, Shots, and Crime Time, as well as in anthologies in England, Italy, and France; playwright for several theater groups in New York, NY.
SIDELIGHTS: Jason Starr worked as a successful telemarketer for years before writing his first novel, and he used the experience for the basis of his debut story. In Cold Caller, protagonist Bill Moss gives the reader insight into the life of a downsized American professional. Moss had previously held a high-level job as an advertising executive but was dismissed when he was suspected of sexual harassment. Faced with extremely high rent and unable to find any job of equal quality, he is forced to work as a telemarketer who makes cold calls for a failing long-distance phone company. For the next two years, Moss works in this new and mediocre job environment, where he must put up with riding the subway, working out of a cubicle, and dealing with an incompetent and alcoholic boss who takes the credit for Moss’s work.
A particularly bad day, which includes getting assaulted on the subway and getting locked out of his bedroom by his girlfriend, sends Moss over the edge. He enters the new territory of insanity, killing someone in the process. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called Cold Caller a “stylish pulp throwback” reminiscent of the 1930s “Black Mask” series.
Starr’s second novel, the thriller Nothing Personal, looks at how crime drives two very different couples together and apart. The poor DePinos struggle with compulsive gambler husband Joey’s gambling debts and a failing marriage. He decides to solve the problem by kidnapping the daughter of his wife’s friends, the wealthy Sussmans. Husband David is a successful advertising executive, who has a mistress out to get him and his wife. Because of Joey and David’s situations, they end up killing and committing blackmail in an attempt to solve their problems. “Starr just never lets up as he twists the plot in ever more sinister directions,” observed Booklist critic Joanne Wilkinson, “and his deadpan tone is a perfect match for his material.”
In Hard Feelings, a psychological thriller, Starr tells the story of Richard Segal, a yuppie Manhattanite who’s going through a nervous breakdown. Already on edge thanks to his abysmal performance at his new job—he hasn’t made a sale in seven months with the computer consulting firm—Richie is also having problems with his wife, and he’s sure that his dog hates him. Enter the bully who used to terrorize him when they were teenagers. The sight of his old tormenter, though the encounter is casual, sends Richie back in time, bringing up painful memories of how the boy used to treat him. His paranoia escalates and eventually Richie himself becomes violent. Writing for the New York Times Book Review, Marilyn Stasio commented that “although Starr is striving for the bleak brilliance of noir models like Jim Thompson, his calibrations are off.” However, Bob Lunn, in a review for Library Journal, observed, “Starr knows how to deliver straight-ahead pulp fiction with the best of them, and here he does it again.”
Moving toward black comedy, Starr’s Tough Luck finds the main character, down-on-his luck Mickey Prada, getting drawn deeper into the criminal world in the 1980s. While working at a seafood market in Brooklyn and trying to earn enough to go to college, he deals with an ailing father and is compelled to place bets for his customer Angelo Santoro. Angelo’s bets are bad, so Mickey finds both the bookie and Angelo after him because Angelo refuses to pay. To get out of this difficulty, he agrees to go on a home robbery job with best friend Chris. Though the crime was supposed to be a sure thing, it does not go well, and Mickey finds himself spiraling downward. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted: “Starr moves deftly through his milieu, twisting expectations and producing a grim comedy.”
Twisted City is a noir novel that revolves around David Miller, who has an unsatisfying life both personally and professionally. When his wallet is lost one day, David goes to the tenement apartment of Charlotte, a prostitute with a drug problem, to retrieve the missing item. Instead of recovering the wallet, he finds himself with problems that may cost him his life. A Publishers Weekly contributor praised the author for creating an ordinary character who finds himself “calmly accepting a ticket to hell, where an ending worthy of Charles Willeford at his most absurd awaits him.”
Lights Out is a story of competition and the sour attitude that can develop when someone sees their competition outpace them to achieve all of their dreams. Ryan Rossetti and Jake Thomas both played baseball when they were teenagers on the team at Canarsie High, each of them promising players with scouts watching their every move. However, Jake has soared in the major leagues and has a lucrative deal as a free agent in his future. Ryan, on the other hand, washed out in the minors due to an injury, and now works painting houses for a measly ten dollars an hour. His one consolation is that he is on the verge of stealing Jake’s former high school sweetheart, now fiancée, who is feeling neglected in the wake of Jake’s fame and success. Jake, however, has his own problems, as he finds himself in danger of a statutory rape charge, and looks to find a more positive story he can use to neutralize the negative publicity. At the same time, rival gang members in another part of Brooklyn are facing their own issues of competition—the kind that lead to shootings, making for an intriguing contrast. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews remarked that “Starr’s distinctive contribution [to noir fiction] is to make virtually everyone involved seethe with resentment from the opening scene. The result is scorching.” A reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote that “the plot jumps into overdrive and heads mercilessly for Starr’s always bleak finish line.”
Bust marks the first collaboration between Starr and fellow crime fiction novelist Ken Bruen, published under the Hard Case Crime noir imprint. The book features a case of multiple double crosses. Max Fisher, a successful New York businessman, wants to bump off his wife so he can make his affair with his secretary Angela more permanent. Angela finds him a bona fide IRA hit man to do the job, only it soon becomes clear that Dillon the hit man is really teamed with Angela to take out Max. The plan is for them to wait until they can be certain of getting Max’s money for themselves, but Dillon is a bit trigger happy, and more interested in murder itself than in money. Soon all of the plots are shifting and becoming more complicated. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly found the book “a seamless blend of Bruen’s dead-on Irish underworld and Starr’s hellish vision of the Big Apple,” the result of which is “smart, trashy fun.”
Starr and Bruen team up again for the noir novel Slide. A sequel to Bust, the book reintroduces readers to Max Fisher, now a drunken wreck in the wake of his mistress’s desertion. In Alabama, however, he is inspired by a meeting with Kyle Jordan, a small-time cocaine dealer working as a hotel clerk. Max taps into Kyle’s contacts and begins to deal crack himself, approaching his old business clients as potential customers. However, his old girlfriend Angela has not disappeared entirely. She has moved on to a new crazy Irishman, named Slide, and together they have plans for Max. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked that “those with a taste for it will have as much fun reading this novel as the authors obviously had writing it.” Thomas Gaughan, writing for Booklist, dubbed Starr’s and Bruen’s effort “a wild, remarkably vulgar, and very funny ode to mindless violence, drugs, [and] down-and-dirty sex.”
The Follower tells the story of a warped love triangle that pits young Katie Porter against two bad choices: a jerk and a psychopath. Her boyfriend Andy Barnett is a man on the make, ready to dump Katie (though unbeknownst to her) at the first sign of a more attractive prospect. Katie, however, is also being pursued by Peter Wells, a stalker who takes a job at her health club in order to be near her and meet her in person—since he has already decided to marry her. Library Journal reviewer Ken Bolton compared the book to Starr’s previous, more noir efforts, remarking that this new work is “more of a character-driven thriller, exploring the relationships between men and women in a world of urban disillusionment.”
Starr once told CA: “Some of my favorite writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, Paul Bolos, Jim Thompson, and Patricia Highsmith, have been major influences for me. I write for several hours every day and try to complete at least one new book each year.”
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 1, 2000, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Nothing Personal, p. 1625; July 1, 2007, Thomas Gaughan, review of Slide, p. 36.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2006, review of Lights Out, p. 706.
Library Journal, December, 2001, Bob Lunn, review of Hard Feelings, p. 176; June 15, 2007, Ken Bolton, review of The Follower, p. 63.
New York Times Book Review, February 3, 2002, Marilyn Stasio, review of Hard Feelings, p. 28.
Publishers Weekly, March 16, 1998, review of Cold Caller, p. 54; October 28, 2002, review of Tough Luck, p. 47; June 28, 2004, review of Twisted City, p. 32; March 13, 2006, review of Bust, p. 47; July 24, 2006, review of Lights Out, p. 39; August 27, 2007, review of Slide, p. 68.
Jason Starr Home Page,http://www.jasonstarr.com (December 21, 2005).*