'Moon Over Manhattan' lacks plot, but delights

Sunday, May 25, 2003

If "Moon Over Manhattan" were a play, it would be a farce.

If it were a food, it would be a light-as-a-breeze souffle.

But it's a book, and a deliciously funny one that belongs in your beach bag this summer.

"Moon Over Manhattan" is a collaboration of TV talk-show host Larry King and mystery novelist Thomas H. Cook. In a foreword, King says he and Cook set out to write a mystery together. Then the terrorist attacks devastated their beloved New York City (King's a native; Cook's a Southern transplant), and their plan changed. Instead, they resolved to create a lighthearted tribute to the wacky and wonderful characters that inhabit the city.

They have succeeded admirably.

There's not much of a plot, but that's OK. Instead, the authors have let loose a goofy gaggle of characters and set them careening into one another like bumper cars, creating a whole lot of frantic action and fun.

And who are these people?

Well, there is the pompous, wealthy liberal TV commentator Arthur Vandameer, a man who never met an "ism" he couldn't embrace, although his mistress, Madelyn Boyd, tells him he's not embracing her with anywhere near enough verve.

He has a beautiful, smart and spoiled teenage daughter, Allison, who lives to drive her father crazy. She does this by acquiring a sweet but breathtakingly dopey boyfriend, threatening to elope with him and then disappear. Her young man is one Joselito Castillo de la Mancha Diaz, but everyone knows him as "Goonie."

Then there's Arthur's political opposite, right-wing newspaper columnist Charlie Moon, who believes young women should receive guns at graduation and tactical nukes should be used on rap concerts. Suffice it to say that he and Arthur are not pals, yet their lives become intertwined.

That happens via the machinations of Charlie's editor, known as the Boy Wonder, and Arthur's boss, TV honcho Roland Fitzwater, who decides to goose Arthur's ratings by changing the name of his TV show from "Speaking Truth to Power" to -- are you ready? -- "Left of Mental."

Adding to the merriment is Harry Stumbo, a private detective who mourns the cleaning up of Times Square. He has a demented sidekick, Cheekie Putonya -- give these authors a big round of applause for the names they've thought up -- a little guy who gets off on provoking big guys into beating him up.

Completing the roster are Roy Bumble, a sad sack doorman, and his jealous wife Bea, who dons a Mr. Salty Peanut costume to spy on her hubby. Really.

As the pace grows ever more frantic, Arthur fears a vast right-wing conspiracy is out to get him, while Charlie is just as convinced that a vast left-wing conspiracy is out to do him in. The whole affair climaxes on the set of "Left of Mental," with the entire loony lineup playing a role in the dizzy denouement.

Kudos to King and Cook. They've created a sophisticated farce that deftly pokes fun at political extremes while planting a loving kiss on the cheek of the Big Apple.