The scene is New York City. Joey DePino, a cable installer with an addiction to gambling, especially on anything that involves sports, is about to recoup his losses at the Meadowlands. His pick, a sixty-five to one shot has just come home a winner -- at least for a brief moment. Then the fated “Inquiry” sign appears on the tote board and his fortune evaporates. His wife, Maureen keeps their rent paid and food on the table, but she dreams of a more lavish lifestyle and a family. Joey’s constant gambling precludes this possibility.
Maureen’s best friend is Leslie Sussman, a woman that, on the surface, is all that Maureen wants to be. Married to an advertising executive, with a bright twelve-year-old daughter, Jessica, Leslie’s life seems to be ideal. However, her husband, David has been having a brief fling at the office with Amy Lee, a Chinese beauty. David has decided to end the affair because he is not in love with Amy and his family is too important to him to throw away for what he considers a passing fancy. Amy has other ideas, however. She threatens to tell his wife and daughter and will not leave him alone.
Inevitably, the problems of the two families become entangled. Joey sees David’s wealth as a solution to his money woes. David thinks Joey probably knows a way for him to make his problems with Amy go away. The reader is aware of the actions of both David and Joey, although neither of the men suspects what the other is doing.
Nothing Personal is labeled a “noir” novel according to the blurbs on the cover. While I am not very familiar with this subgenre in the world of mystery fiction, it is suspenseful in that the reader can anticipate fateful events that are about to take place. It is sad because the people involved are not incorrigible, but are destined for unhappiness because they cannot prevent themselves from making unwise choices. With the possible exception of Maureen, everyone is in a more miserable situation at the end of the story than at the beginning, and there is little reason to think things will improve in the future.
The characters, albeit somewhat stereotypical, are believable. They are basically good people, but each has a tragic flaw, which destroys his relationship with the person or people most important in his life. One cannot help but feel sorry for them. They are all naïve in the sense that they are envious of each other’s possessions or attitudes toward life, when, in fact, they are all miserable.
Although there is enough action in the plot to keep the story moving, Nothing Personal is a character-driven novel. The tone, while initially reminiscent of Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder and his fellow thieves, is actually much different. Westlake’s characters allow one to chuckle at their antics as they are humorous in their ineptitude, but Starr’s characters are tragic. It might be argued that the disaster that befalls each character is one of their own making. Thus, they got what they deserved. Nothing Personal is definitely not a happy novel. Do not read it if you are in need of your spirits being lifted. It will not happen.