by Robert S. Levinson
Review by Mel Jacob
Five Star Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781432826796
Date: 16 January 2013
Satire and black humor enliven Robert Levinsonís latest novel, Phony Tinsel. Set in Hollywood in the late Thirties, oversexed actresses, directors, and producers provide the spice. An aging bitchy star wants to eliminate her producer/director husband and lay the blame on an innocent scriptwriter.
Charlie Dickens, a young scriptwriter, is desperate to get his latest script made into a movie. Failing to attract any interest, he tries to leave his script on a producer's doorstep. Instead, he encounters Sarah Darling, a glamorous star, and she indicates she might present it to her husband if the writer makes the changes she wants. He jumps at the chance and becomes her latest boy toy.
Sarah sees the writer as the ideal patsy for the killing of her husband, Max Moonglow. She has a cadre of loyal men to help her: Mad Dog Mahoney, a former wrestler and caretaker; Earl Stanley, her gardener, lover, and an aspiring leading man; and Barney Rooker, her guardian angel who saved her from her pimp before she became Sarah Darling. Barney is now in a nursing home but still has contacts and influence.
The murder plot is a comedy of errors in which everything goes wrong and forces Sarah to improvise. Mad Dog transports an unconscious Charlie far from town, and Sarah loses track of him. Poor Charlie suffers hunger, injuries, and threats as he tries to return to Los Angeles. Along the way, various people help him and save his life, among them a farm couple and a young woman.
The setting is casting couch Hollywood stripped of its glamour and with all its bitchiness and infighting. The names of famous movies and stars are used as seasonings and a number of stars appear in the novel.
Levinson is not kind to his characters. Sarah's early life as Sadie was appalling and makes her determination to succeed at any cost understandable. Charlie's problems mirror Joel McCrae's in "Sullivan's Travels". Apparently, the only key to success is sex.
This review only touches on the part of the complex action. Overall, the story stretches the myths and legends of Hollywood to the breaking point, but will amuse readers with the over-the-top characters. Sarah has plenty of snappy, cutting dialogue. The ending is mixed, but justice of a sort is served.