Tommy Russo is one of those people you casually meet at a bar or work. He's a sometimes actor, a full time bouncer, and a compulsive gambler. He's down on his luck lately, but that all changes when he meets a man named Pete one cold winter's day. Pete is also a small-time gambler, but he makes Tommy an offer he can't put away: for just ten thousand dollars, buy into a syndicate of investors and become the owner of a race horse. Tommy would like nothing better than to join this group, but there is this small issue involving his lack of funds. No problem, the safe at the bar where he works has all the money he'll need and he has memorized the combination. And one other thing: Tommy is a clinical definition of a sociopath.
Jason Starr lists Jim Thompson as one of his influences and it's not hard to see The Killer Inside Me as an inspiration for this book. A friend once wrote that reading Killer was like having a conversation with a psychopath. Reading Fake ID turns you into a prison psychologist trying to figure out where this nice young man went wrong. But soon you discover the nice young man isn't such a good person. Not since KW Jeter's Mantis have I felt so trapped inside the brain of a seriously disturbed individual.
What makes the book outstanding is how everyone around Tommy can see him going over the edge. At one point he casually tries to hit on a police woman and the brief conversation is wrong on so many counts. Any fool can see the pick-up line is out of place and only going to put him into deeper trouble. Of course, from Tommy's point-of-view, a pretty woman is fair game and anyone opposed to him is an asshole. Tommy has had such a string of success with his natural acting ability and good looks, so he can talk his way out of any bad situation. But that luck is starting to run thin. It doesn'thelp that he's violent prone.
If I have one criticism of Fake ID, it would be the lack of background material on Tommy. How did he end up this way? Since the book is told from his POV, we don't get a lot of asides. There is some reference to child abuse as he remembers being knocked down the stairs by his father, but not much more.
Still, an excellent book and another fine production from Hard Case Crime.