Toby Peters has rubbed elbows with, and taken a beating for, most of the brightest stars from Hollywood's 1940s heyday. Judy Garland, Errol Flynn, Bette Davis, Charlie Chaplin--this disheveled, taco-gulping L.A. private eye has worked for them all. Usually to his regret. In Stuart M. Kaminsky's wacky but charming To Catch a Spy, he adds the terminally suave Cary Grant to his client list.
As 1943 comes to an end, with Allied bombs battering Berlin and Americans celebrating a new pork bonus among their wartime food stamps, Grant hires Peters to make a late-night swap of money for "compromising documents." ("I'm not being blackmailed over some crime or sexual indiscretion," Grant insists. "It's more important than that.") However, the mysterious messenger is shot before he can hand Peters the papers. His dying words: "George Hall." It's only the vaguest of clues, but enough to send Toby and Grant--who's working for British Intelligence Services--on a bungling chase that leads to a second corpse, a cabal of Nazi sympathizers, and a perilous confrontation on a moonlit precipice.
What's most remarkable about this 22nd Peters outing is that it's just as welcome as the first, 1977's Bullet for a Star. Kaminsky, a film historian, employs his knowledge of Tinsel Town's "golden age" to both nostalgic and comic effect. More lighthearted than 2001's A Few Minutes Past Midnight, but still featuring Kaminsky's usually suspect cast of supporting eccentrics--including Irene Plaut, Toby's addled landlady, and dentist-from-hell Shelly Minck--To Catch a Spy is Raymond Chandler by way of the Marx Brothers. --J. Kingston Pierce
For anyone with a taste for old Hollywood B-movie mysteries, Edgar winner Kaminsky offers plenty of nostalgic fun in his 22nd book to feature good-natured, unprepossessing sleuth Toby Peters (after 2001's A Few Minutes Past Midnight). Having solved cases for the likes of Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart and the Marx Brothers, Toby now takes on as a client Bristol's own Archibald Alexander Leach, aka Cary Grant. A note at the start explains that King George VI awarded Grant a medal in 1947 for somewhat vague services during WWII. Kaminsky supposes Grant to have been a British intelligence agent, his job to detect the activities of Nazi sympathizers in Hollywood. Married to Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton at the time, he finds more pro-Nazis among his wife's rich friends than among the acting community. Grant hires Toby, who packs a .38 with which he's unable to hit the broad side of a sound stage, to deliver a satchel of money in the dark of night to a man who'll give him an envelope in return. Need anyone ask what occurs? Shots ring out. The man Toby is to meet dies with the name "George Hall" on his lips, while Toby receives the first of many conks on the head, knocking him cold. Toby and the acrobatic Grant at his lithe best make an appealing team. The tone is light, the pace brisk, the tongue firmly in cheek. The series may be tissue thin by this point, but fans are in for a merry ride.
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