By Joe Keenan
Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
I read this some years ago and recently re-read it while killing time in a hospital waiting room. It gave me some laughs at a time when I really needed them, and I just had to share it with you. It has no socially redeeming value, the characters have no depth and are stereotypes. But who cares? It’s hilarious.
Who knew scamming the Mafia could be this funny? OK, OK, it’s also dangerous. But funny! At least reading about it is hilarious when you’re reading Blue Heaven by Joe Keenan. Not a new book, it was copyrighted in 1988, but—dare I say it again? Funny.
The story is narrated by one of the principals, a struggling playwright named Philip Cavanaugh. Philip is gay, as are many of the people he knows, including his best (usually) friend and first-boyfriend-while-in-their-teens and occasional mattress buddy, Gilbert Selwyn. Gilbert is a pretty, scheming, self-centered, ambitious lover of luxury and lots and lots of money he doesn’t have to work for. Gilbert’s mother’s most recent husband is Tony Cellini, whose vast wealth, unbeknownst to the naïve woman, is from Mob activity.
Gilbert attends a Cellini family wedding and is starry-eyed at the mountains of loot the newlyweds get from the family/Family. His thinking goes something like this: wedding = gifts and money, unbelievable piles of both. He needs money. He ALWAYS needs money but is allergic to work. Ergo: the perfect answer would be to have a wedding which would bring in tons of gifts from the family/Family. Only one problem: a wedding required a female bride.
Enter the villain(ess) of the piece: Moira Finch, who is as much a pretty, scheming, self-centered, ambitious, lover of luxury and all the things money can buy as is Gilbert. However, while Gilbert has a few, slight and barely noticeable scruples, Moira has none. As in, NONE. Moira’s mother is married to a British duke. (And thereby hangs the tale). Moira and Gilbert come up with the perfect scheme. They will marry, rake in the swag, stay married a few months, then divorce and divvy up the take. What could go wrong? A better question would be: what could go right?
The two conspirators become three when they rope Philip into helping, for a price (he really does need a computer). The three become four when things start to go wrong in a major way and Philip goes running to his good friend and collaborator, Claire, who is smarter and more sensible than Philip and Gilbert combined and who MIGHT be able to make the devious Moira stop weaseling about and complicating things. Moira, as it turns out, is far more devious and things are far more complicated than they knew. Then the four become five when a hysterical gay chemist, Winslow, is convinced (with a lot or effort) into putting on drag and pretending to be Moira’s mother the Duchess. But he can do it only if he’s coked to the gills, and while under the influence of coke and Ecstasy s/he flirts with the widowed, elderly Don and ends up engaged to marry him as soon as she divorces the Duke…
Before it’s over, a mechanized Christmas Wise Man is assassinated by a gun-blazing bodyguard; three warring factions of the Family have separately threatened the five conspirators with various, creative, and gruesome methods of death and each demands something different—and contradictory—from them or else; the horny, gay, teenage son of a mobster tries to lure Philip into flagrante delicto under the same roof as his homophobic dad; there is a shootout at the wedding, the Duchess vanishes leaving behind nothing but her bloody gown which does not contain her body, and … well, there are more twists, turns, double-crosses, triple-crosses, blackmail, and one-liners than you can imagine.
Only one other book made me laugh as much, and that was Ruby Sweetwater and the Ringo Kid. Les Miserables it is not. But if you ever appreciated send-ups, silliness, Monty Python, MAD Magazine, Saturday Night Live, and Laugh-In you’ll love it. I recommend it if you need a laugh.
Joe Keenan, who was one of those responsible for that intelligent, very funny, and still lamented sitcom, Frazier, also wrote two sequels with Gilbert, Philip, and Claire: Putting on the Ritz, and My Lucky Star.