On New Year's Day 1944, Hollywood down-and-out private eye Toby Peters catches a case that again embroils him in a rough-and-tumble series of events alongside one of the silver screen's greatest stars. Cary Grant, already a legend in the making with some of his best work still before him, hires Peters to deliver a package to a clandestine meeting for him. The package contains, Grant says, five thousand dollars in cash. The movie star won't tell Peters what's in the package that he's supposed to pick up. Later, at the meeting, Peters is bushwhacked. When he regains consciousness, the money is gone, the package is missing, and the man he was supposed to meet dies after leaving a cryptic whispered message behind. Stumbling through the park, Peters finds a police officer and reports the murder, only when they return to the tree where he left the corpse, the dead man is gone. Cary Grant keeps Peters on his payroll, and the Hollywood private eye decides to stay because things are not adding up anywhere. Peters has drawn the unwelcome attention of the Los Angeles Police Department, including his brother Phil, and two agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. With his usual cadre of friends, including Gunther the small person, Jeremy the poet, and Shelly the dentist, Peters struggles to find the truth in the morass of half-truths and outright lies as the body count increases.
Stuart Kaminsky is an award-winning mystery novelist with four series currently underway. TO CATCH A SPY is the twenty-second novel in the long-running Toby Peters series set in 1940s Hollywood. The titles include A BULLET FOR A STAR (with Errol Flynn), NEVER CROSS A VAMPIRE (with Bela Lugosi), MURDER ON THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD (with Judy Garland), HE DONE HER WRONG (with Mae West), THE DEVIL MET A LADY (with Bette Davis), and THE MAN WHO SHOT LEWIS VANCE (with John Wayne). Kaminsky's other series include Russian police inspector Porfiry Rostnikov, Chicago police detective Abe Lieberman, and Florida process server Lewis Fonesca.
The Toby Peters novels are quick and simple, each a guilty pleasure to read. TO CATCH A SPY, as in all of the series novels, offers a noirish story with plenty of Hollywood background that knowledgeable film aficionados of the 1940s era will love. One of the best aspects of this series is the cast of support characters. Mrs. Plaut is represented in rare form and Cary Grant plays quite nicely off her. Sheldon Minick, the dentist, is apparently going through some changes that are hinted at even more by the foreshadowing of the next Toby Peters book at the end of this story. One of the more interesting characters in the book is George Hall (one of several Peters turns up during the course of the novel) a voice actor for radio. Kaminsky, a former film historian and college professor, is certainly knowledgeable about this period of time and the various forms entertainment took. Cary Grant comes across much as he does in his movies, but there isn't much added depth.
The ending seemed a little rushed, and the prologue that basically takes a scene out of the final few moments of the books seems too forced. The device got the reader's attention as to why Cary Grant and Toby Peters are running for their lives, but made the ending collapse rather suddenly. Still, the novel is well worth reading.
Stuart Kaminsky's Toby Peters novels are not Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels. They aren't intended to be. The Peters novels are meant to be evocative of the 1940s time period and of Hollywood. Fans of Donald Westlake, Raymond Chandler, and Max Allan Collins' Nate Heller novels will probably enjoy this series a lot, and mystery readers looking for something solid and dependable will want to pick this book up if they've never tried Toby Peters or Stuart Kaminsky.