Gilbert Selwyn is the sort of friend you'd love to have . . . tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail. But when he calls his somewhat hapless pal Phil Cavanaugh with an offer of Hollywood-size lucre, the only sound Phil hears is the Zen-like thud of One Shoe Dropping, and even that is obscured by the ring of the cash register. So he corrals his writing partner, Claire Simmons, drops his gig as a bicycle messenger and jets off to Tinseltown.

My Lucky Star, Joe Keenan's third novel, comes after a 15-year gap during much of which he penned and co-produced the television series Frasier. The author has resurrected Star's central trio of characters from his previous two books, Blue Heaven and Putting on the Ritz.

The tangled web in which our protagonists find themselves ensnared starts out don't they all? with a lie. It seems Gilbert has procured a screenwriting assignment for the trio using a purloined script of Casablanca, which he claims they wrote, and which a historically challenged director doesn't recognize as having already been filmed.

Our slightly witless trio becomes embroiled in the affairs of a truly dysfunctional family that includes two past-their-sell-by-date actresses, a manipulative (and flamboyantly homosexual) uncle and a deeply closeted superstar with a dim-bulb wife. Add to that volatile mix sibling rivalry, blackmail, a vengeful district attorney, gay prostitutes and the usual horde of Hollyweird gasbags and schemers, and you have a romp in the making. Keenan has a finely tuned ear for dialogue (one wonders how much of it is loosely adapted from meetings he's attended), and a style that melds Noel Coward, Preston Sturges and Truman Capote in a frothy fusion.

Just when you think the wheels are about to come off, they do, but Keenan deftly guides us through the S-curves of Hollywood fortune with the aplomb of someone who knows that even the sturdiest-looking faade is propped up with sticks. Thane Tierney writes from Los Angeles.

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