It’s that unblushing reprobate Victor Plotz who narrates the tenth of the Charlie Bradshaw Saratoga novels (Saratoga Fleshpot, 1995, etc.), which means a point of view unredeemed by anything resembling a moral stricture. Plotz, 65, with a libido ever young--ask his inamorata Rosemary Larkin, a.k.a. the Queen of Softness--has never seen the lofty principle he’d give the time of day. “I have always been the pal of easy money,” he says. It’s that kind of thinking that puts the wrong strongbox in Plotz’s grasping hands, resulting in an open breach with a pair of mafia muscle guys determined to restore the box--fat with 250,000 in legal tender--to its rightful godfather. Inevitably, the disagreement also involves Charlie, a knight-errant in a porkpie hat and seriously rumpled clothes, who’s as principled as Plotz is amoral. There’s Charlie minding his own modest but impeccably honest p.i. business when Plotz sends out an SOS. Charlie can’t ignore it—or, for that matter, anyone’s SOS. So one thing leads to another and finally to a madcap chase with more people running around after the loaded strongbox than have gathered in a forest since As You Like It. But that’s when this very funny novel hits the snag that does it in, and the comedy turns to farce. And that’s when readers will find themselves caring significantly less about what happens to Charlie and friends. Farce is the operative word here. It’s like cold water thrown at readers half-mesmerized by a sure-handed storyteller: it wakes them up, breaks the spell. Farce is even riskier than satire, which, as everybody knows, is what closes on Saturday night.