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Stuart M. Kaminsky: Toby Peters books: An appreciation
Posted by Lars Walker @ 8:29 pm EST
Last night I noted, belatedly, the passing of author Stuart M. Kaminsky last month. Purely by happenstance, I was reading several of his Toby Peters mysteries at the time, and was already planning to post about them.
The hero of the series, Toby Peters, is a shabby, distinctly down-market private eye working in Los Angeles in the late '30s and the '40s. Despite the fact that he can't afford any better office than a closet in a dentist's office, lives in a seedy boarding house overseen by a batty landlady, drives a tiny old Crosley automobile, and can never find a clean shirt to wear, he continually takes cases involving prominent personalities, especially movie stars.
It has occurred to me that Kaminsky was having a joke on us, and that the real secret of Toby Peters is that he was delusional.
But when I look past that bit of spontaneous deconstruction, I find the Peters mysteries simply a lot of fun. Peters is no Philip Marlowe. Although he can handle himself in a fight (he used to box and his face shows it), he injured his back doing bodyguard work for Mickey Rooney a while ago, and has to sleep on a mattress on the floor. He doesn't drink at all, and his favorite food is cold cereal. He has an ex-wife whom he loves, but she won't go out with him because he's immature. He has a brother who's a cop, and who generally seems to hate him (he gave him his first broken nose), but who usually comes through for him in a pinch. When he needs help with his cases, he can sometimes hire an old cop or security guard, but most of the time he ends up enlisting his friendsGunther, his next-door neighbor, who is a three-foot-tall Swiss translator, Sheldon, the fat and unhygienic dentist from whom he rents his office, and Jeremy, the retired wrestler and poet who owns the office building. The result often resembles a Keystone Kops chase more than the elegant payoff in a William Powell movie.
The books I've read in this spree were Down for the Count (concerning Joe Louis), Think Fast, Mr. Peters (concerning Peter Lorre, a splendid opportunity for some Sam Spade dialogue), Buried Caesars (Gen. Douglas MacArthur) and Tomorrow is Another Day (Clark Gable).
They were fast reads. They didn't offend me (though there's a little rough language and implied sex). They were often very funny, and always well-written.