Cold Caller by Jason Starr
Cold Caller is a novel about failed ambitions, chance encounters leading to unimagined crime, and an amoral, if charming protagonist in the form of Bill Moss.
This is a reprint of a novel that Jason Starr first published in 1998, and it could be described as the love child of American Psycho or any of Jim Thompson’s hard-boiled Noir Crime novels.
Cold Caller is described as White Collar Noir, and that is the right way in which to describe the book. Most of us have or have had uniquely uninspiring jobs, where we spent hours in the company of people we would generally cross the road to avoid, and some of us have probably thought about a murder at one time or another, but Moss takes things to a whole different level. His career is stagnating, as is his sex life with girlfriend Julie, who wishes he would convert religion, while her stuffy college friends are not to his taste, and his boss, a younger man with less talent, is riding him for all he is worth.
An encounter with a lady of the night, an embarrassing violent evening out with Julie and her friends, and then the hoped-for promotion is in fact redundancy, and Bill snaps, in a violent, and unexpected fashion, although as this inciting incident happens after more than a hundred pages of background and exposition, it is not as shocking as it could have been…..So, now he has a dead body, a lot of angry pimps, a bitter and scared girlfriend, and no job.
This is just the start of Bill Moss’s problems. Will he get away with it? Does anyone at the office suspect him of the crime? What will be his punishment be? Of course, he does not get caught by the Police. The set-piece of the police being too inefficient to catch the criminals has been done to death and lets the book down slightly. Most good policemen would be able to tell a first time murderer when they met him from, from things such as body language, or other clues, but here there is none of that, and it is not until nearly the end of the novel that Bill gets any type of punishment, but like Double Indemnity it entirely fits for the crime.
However, the book is pretty much of its time. It is nearly twenty years since it was published, and the crime-fighting technology would have moved on in that time. We are meant to suspend our disbelief for a lot of the book. It is just best to read it is a rollercoaster ride, rather than point out some of the plot holes. The novel goes along at quite a lick, and at more than 250 pages it packs a lot in. Although the noir doesn’t come across in the same way that it does with Dashiel Hammet’s or Jim Thompson’s, it does have something of a dark, and seamy underbelly, but this is underscored by much of the humour that exists within the book.
It is a reasonable read that doesn’t outstay its welcome, but it has much of a first novel vibe within it, with Jason Starr wanting to impress the reader with his energy and ideas, and his writing and stories did mature and grow as his career progressed