cover image The Bookmakers

The Bookmakers

Zev Chafets, Ze'ev Chafets. Random House (NY), $21 (261pp) ISBN 978-0-679-41456-8

The title is the first sly joke in this wacky romp in which a has-been novelist gets entangled in deception and slapstick with his agent, his publisher and the mafia. Chafets (Inherit the Mob) maintains an arch tone throughout the shaggy-dog tale of ex-literary wunderkind Mack Green, who, on his 45th birthday, gets a plot idea that he thinks will revive his career: an aging former literary star who, like Mack, has done little but drink and chase women for years, writes a yearlong diary before returning to his midwestern hometown to kill himself. Mack's book shapes up nicely, but Mack, often a tad obtuse, doesn't know that Artie Wolfowitz, his publisher and ostensible friend, has been sabotaging Mack's sales for 15 years, ever since he found out that Mack had bedded his wife. Nor does he know that his agent, Tommy Russo, who's also an ordained priest, has given his 10% of the book to his bookie, to settle a debt. The bookie, Herman Reggie, engineers a secret movie deal and tries to make Mack's book even more of a roman a clef than Mack intends--by contracting with a 4'6"", 200-plus-pound hit man called Afterbirth to complete the ``suicide.'' And Wolfowitz, trying to concoct a plagiarism scandal that would seal Mack's literary doom, hires a hack to write another suicide diary. The plots and double crosses unfold with a mix of cheerfulness and suspense; the many colorful characters are great fun; and the schemings of Wolfowitz and Reggie are delicious. Author tour. (Apr.)