Picks and Pans Review: The Negative

updated 08/09/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/09/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Michael Covino

Gangsters and movie moguls share "a fundamentally religious belief in the big score," muses Frank Furio, who, as the Ivy-educated scion of a Bronx Mafioso, knows both. Just how much the two types have in common he discovers in this mordantly comic first novel. After cooling his Guccis for two years in Allenwood for real estate swindling, Frank is all ears when film professor Wilbur Blackfield approaches him with a seemingly sure-fire scheme: stealing the negative, before prints have been made, of High Plateau of Stars II, the eagerly awaited sequel to one of the biggest blockbusters ever. But the plan backfires because Doug Lowell, the film's driven, half-mad director, has mortgaged ail he owns on the epic, which in his view is hopelessly flawed. He actually would like nothing better than for the film to be destroyed so he can start all over with the insurance money.

What ensues is a suspenseful cat-and-cat game, skillfully intercut with black comedy. Most comes at the expense of Hollywood poseurs, whom Covino clearly encountered in his former life as a script reader for Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope Studio. In the end, what Covino manages to convey is a real sense of movie magic, as in his description of a spaceship's landing in High Plateau II. "On this planet things are the same, but not quite the same—something about the way the sun filters and shimmers through the trees, the peculiar pitch of the light; the colors seem subtly different, tainted, as though the very molecules vibrate to the music of a different god." (Viking, $21)

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