Butman builds his inventive first novel around the art of the deal, pushing it in a dreamy, semiromantic direction. A rich resident of a tony New England village, Arthur Worthy, takes in the homeless narrator, Alan Lowe, christens him "Theo" and makes him his butler. Lowe, a former designer who is slumming his way through a shabby poverty charade, plays along with Worthy's game when the businessman asks him to come to London and perform a pivotal, trumped-up role in a high-stakes business meeting. The game takes an amusing turn when Worthy's erstwhile business partner shows up on their flight and gets himself arrested, allowing Lowe to meet one of the men he must fool. Despite the long odds, the deal goes smoothly until a series of bad judgments eliminates Worthy and his colleague from the final closing, leaving their fate in the hands of a phony indigent with no business experience. Butman's whimsical approach makes the odd conceit work, and he smartly steers clear of Lowe's midlife bitterness as he takes his plot through its strange twists and turns. The romantic subplot involving Anna, Worthy's ex-wife (who also turns out to be Lowe's childhood crush), is a dead end, but Butman introduces another entertaining subplot when Worthy beds a married woman just before he hits the road. Butman is a gifted writer with an excellent feel for his offbeat characters, but what makes this debut work is his ability to approach just about any situation as an arcane comedy of manners. (Aug.)
Forecast:Handselling and a few prominent reviews will be needed to rescue this appealing, intelligent title from obscurity.