A novel that moves like a great Broadway comedy, rich with superbly etched characters and cannonball momentum, starring perhaps Groucho Marx in his first straight role as a semi-David Merrick-styled egoist producer. First, though, Ben Riller is himself, a producer with 14 hits out of 17 shows, a natural magnet for production money. Unhappily, Riller has fallen for a verse play (he'd written one himself many odd years ago), the first to be staged on the Great White Way in 30 years, and capital has not come in. All of Riller's old investors know in their bones that this one is a dog. It's now five weeks from opening, and he's spent the 20%, a crime, since moneys in escrow can't legally be spent until the full 100% capitalization is solid. Now Riller must turn to Nick Manucci, a moneylender who will give him the necessary $426,000 at 10% interest weekly, plus the lion's share of Riller's 50% of the show, plus Riller signing over all his possessions in case of default. All on a show in verse! And default is unthinkable, since breaking legs is one of Manucci's kinder forms of persuasion--aside from his leaving the Riller family houseless and penniless. Some of Riller's agony may be familiar personally to Stein, whose publishing house, Stein & Day, went bottoms up in 1989 (A Feast for Lawyers, 1989), but something has gone right for Stein in this novel, his strongest and best- tailored ever (The Resort, 1979). Riller is an extremely likable character, who talks with--and is accompanied everywhere by--his father's wise-speaking ghost, while the wonderfully villainous Manucci, a perfect foil much like Runyon characters once played by Sheldon Leonard, undergoes a stupefying character reversal that satisfies utterly. Not high art--but razor-sharp. Waiting for film.