Author of the Month

Name: Jason Starr

First Novel: Cold Caller

Most Recent Book: Savage Lane

'Starr is a dark star in the crime genre...'

Life is sublime in the idyllic suburb of New York City. Recent divorcee, Karen Daily and her two kids have for the first time in years found joy as they settle into the close-knit community of Savage Lane. Neighbours, Mark and Deb Berman, have been supportive as she moves on in life: teaching at the local school and even dating again.

But behind pristine houses and perfect smiles lie dark motives far more sinister than Karen could have ever imagined. Unknown to her, Mark, trapped in his own unhappy marriage, has developed a rich fantasy life for the two of them. And as rumours start to spread, it seems that he isn't the only one targeting Karen.

‘Savage Lane’ had a slightly different feel to Starr’s other novels. Firstly, it was twice as long so the story and characters had more time to develop. Starr goes into their emotions and motivations, and was able to do this in more depth with this longer book. Secondly, it had an air of a thriller, rather than a plot based around dark characters (although Savage Lane won’t disappoint his loyal readers, as there are plenty of miscreants and unlikeable people to choose from in a cast of plenty). ‘Savage Lane’ centres on the disappearance of one of the central characters, and how this affects all the others and it is with this scenario that Starr excels.

Starr, as always, has a whole host of disagreeable, self-absorbed characters. The only difference being there was one without a dark side, who was what he first appeared to be (although there were hints that even this person could be tipped over the edge and tuned into an obsessive, spurned stalker). Starr really doesn't bring out the best in people!

I was disappointed that not all of the characters got the come-uppance they deserved as most here are either self-delusional or narcissistic or both! ‘Savage Lane’ is a new and different style from Jason Starr but he still kept me enthralled with his disturbing little tale based in suburbia and didn’t lose the darkness that pulls me in each time I read his books. Starr is a dark star in the crime genre and this will more than satisfy his fans – and if you have yet to discover this great talent and his dark little tales – then you have a treat in store.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) ‘Savage Lane’ had a different feel to it compared to your previous novels. There was a definite shift from your normal short dark tale to a more thriller based story. Was this a conscious move?
I try to do something different from book to book. Some of my early novels, such as ‘Cold Caller’ and ‘Twisted City’, were straight ahead, first-person crime novels, and were very psychological. I think there’s a lot of this in ‘Savage Lane’, and perhaps the overall structure and tone has some similarities to my other thrillers, such as ‘The Follower’ and ‘Panic Attack’. That said, I think ‘Savage Lane’ breaks new ground for me. It’s set outside of the city, in an affluent suburb of New York, which is a shift for me as most of my previous novels have an urban setting. The location is important because while ironically there’s more space in the suburbs, there’s also more claustrophobia. People are in each other’s business, making judgments and false assumptions about one another. One of the main characters in the novel is a divorced woman with kids who becomes the target of gossip and fantasies. There’s also more satire in this novel than in any previous novels. So the book is a thriller, but it’s also a satire and commentary on suburban life.
2) Most, if not all of your characters, have the worst possible traits. Do you choose different characteristics then roll them into one person or do you base your characters on people you know?
I try to make my characters as real as possible, hoping this will make them resonate with readers. I’ve never based a character on someone I know personally, nor do I pick out particular traits. When I’m writing from a characters point of view I feel like I’m an actor, taking on the persona, or really the attitude of the character. Whether they have good or bad traits isn’t for me to say - the reader can be the judge of that. But I will say my most twisted characters are by far the most enjoyable to write. The characters may behave badly, but there’s a lot of humour in these situations, and I think this is where the satire comes into play. Also, I think extreme behaviour makes for the best drama. In real life it’s much better to be surrounded by sane people. In fiction, it’s fun to be a little voyeuristic and get into the darker side of human nature. That’s how I see it anyway. This is why I’ve always tried to avoid writing about traditional heroic characters. I think I’m much more on the Hitchcock side of the genre in this respect. And, what with the huge success of ‘Gone Girl’, it’s great to see this sort of dark, domestic thriller hit the mainstream.
3) Just how much darker can you go with people? Do you think people can sink any lower than they have already in your stories? Will you remain with stand-alone novels or would you one day like to take up where you left off with a certain character? If so, which character do you feel has more mileage and why?
I think if my books resonate with readers in any way it’s because I’m hitting on behaviour that’s real, that they can recognize in society. I was a reporter before my first novel was published - non-fiction, financial stuff mainly, but I think some of the attitude of a reporter seeps into my writing. I’m just writing about what I see around me and you just have to turn on the news to hear about some new level of depravity in the world. Regarding a series - yes, this is definitely something I’m considering. I’ve written series books before - the fantasy novels I wrote for Penguin and my four novels co-written with the great Ken Bruen, are series books. In a series, my main character would have to be a character that I found interesting enough to take from book to book.
4) Much comparison has been made between yourself and Jim Thompson. Do you see him as being an influence on your work?
Early on, Thompson was a huge influence on me, for sure. When I read Thompson for the first time, it really shook up my whole approach to writing crime fiction. My first attempt at a novel was a bloated 500 page PI novel that I’ve kept in the drawer. During that time I discovered Thompson, and read James M. Cain as well, and was sucked in by the idea that a crime story doesn’t necessarily have to be told from the point of view of the good guy. This was an enlightening concept to me. It encouraged me to take bigger risks in my own writing, push into new directions. For similar reasons, Ian McEwan and Paul Bowles were also big influences on me.
5) Many of your books have a 40’s/50’s feel to them. Are you a big fan of the authors from those eras like Raymond Chandler, David Goodis and Cornell Woolrich? If so, what is it about their fiction that you find so fascinating?
I think my earlier crime novels, ‘Cold Caller’, ‘Fake ID’, ‘Hard Feelings’, ‘Twisted City’ etc. may have that feel. I think my themes are much different than the crime writers of the 1940’s and 1950’s, but I guess I have a naturally spare writing style, and similar anti-hero protagonists. I’m a huge Goodis fan, have rest most of his books. I never got into Woolrich as much, but he’s certainly one of the masters of psychological suspense. I love Chandler for his style and humour.
6) You have written four pulp Noir novels with Ken Bruen (the fourth ‘Pimp’ is published early 2016). How different is it to write a book as a collaboration? Is it harder or easier than writing by yourself?
I’m excited that Ken and I have written our fourth book, and we think it’s the best one yet. Also, the entire series will be published in the U.K, for the first time, which is great. I think collaborating, like marriage, can be easy or hard, depending on the chemistry. With Ken it’s much, much easier than writing solo. Actually it’s so easy it doesn’t feel like work at all, and I think that vibe comes out in the books. Whenever Ken and I get together, we’re both amazed that we’ve actually written these books, over a thousand pages of prose together. It feels like the books wrote themselves.
7) For writers who are just starting out on their ‘novel journey’, what one piece of advice would you give?
Persistence. Talent only gets you so far. You have to write every day, because you want to write, not because you want to be a writer. And then persistence in finding an agent and publisher kicks in. There are a lot of extremely talented writers who write a book or two and then give up. But if you have some talent and persistence it’s only a matter of time until your work will find an audience.
8) Are you a fan of crime fiction in general? What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
I read in all different genres, and am a huge crime fiction fan. Going stream of consciousness here - off the top of my head:

The Shark-Infested Custard by Charles Willeford. I’ve said this before, but it’s a crime novel that was way ahead of its time. Brilliant dark humour and love how it’s structured.

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith is a great example of how to write from the point of view of an anti-hero.

The Guards by Ken Bruen. What Thompson did for the crime novel, Bruen does for the P.I. novel. He turns the PI novel inside out—making it more about the character than the crimes.

These three novels are must reads for all crime fiction fans.