When word reaches Richie Cunningham that Fonzie has died in a motorcycle crash, he travels from 1980s Hollywood to his Wisconsin hometown and finds himself drawn into a mystery involving his late friend and local politics.
Richie, now Richard, Cunningham has made a name for himself as a screenwriter in the new Hollywood of the 1970s, though he finds his career stalling, and, as Star Wars is ascendant, he's unable to find funding for his directing debut, an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel Suttree. He has a chance to revive his career by scripting a quickie Star Wars rip-off, but, despite his dwindling bank account, he's reluctant to sell out his dreams. News of Fonzie's death gives him a melancholy reprieve before he makes his decision. Heading to his hometown, staying in the house where he grew up (now occupied by Joanie and Chachi), being resented by his old friends Potsie and Ralph (who think he's a stuck-up Hollywood type), Richard is slowly drawn into a local political campaign and the unsettling sense that he's being watched. As a mystery, it's a fairly basic outing. But as a kind of wish-fulfillment fantasy about going back to your hometown as a fading success and finding a way to restore old ties, the novel is almost shamelessly entertaining. A sharper, darker novel pokes out at moments, as in the way that Potsie and Ralph, still slogging away in a cover band, don't distinguish between Springsteen and Journey. For the most part, it's content to be pleasant, and the amiability is quite pleasing.
This gimmick novel is never as tough as you hope it will be but never as soft as you fear.