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To Catch a Spy: A Toby Peters Mystery [Hardcover]

Stuart M. Kaminsky
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 19 2002 Otto Penzler Books
With a hilarious new Hollywood thriller and in the hire of the urbane, amusing screen star Cary Grant, private investigator Toby Peters continues a madcap career that has cast him as sleuth to such movie luminaries as Humphrey Bogart, the Marx Brothers, Bette Davis, Mae West, and Charlie Chaplin. Like many a movie mystery, this one begins in the middle of the night, when Toby, trying to deliver a package at Grant's behest, finds himself with a corpse on his hands, a lump on his head, and an odd message from a dying man. Now in pursuit of a murderer, Toby and Grant, who proves to be no less acrobatic than he is resourceful, follow a trail of clues that leads them eventually to a den of Nazi sympathizers and finally to a nighttime confrontation on a mountaintop with a very determined and formidably well-armed killer. As always, Toby can count on the aid of his friends: the unsanitary dentist Shelly Minck, with whom Toby shares an office; the huge wrestler-turned-poet Jerry Butler; the suave Swiss little person Gunther Whertman, who has mastered as many languages as he has skills; and Mrs. Irene Plaut, Toby's daffy but dogged landlady. As always, too, all four lend Toby their loyalty and support, although they are more likely to add to the chaos. "Kaminsky has such a good time writing, and he so loves the period, that the reader is swept along willy-nilly."—New York Times Book Review "Makes the totally wacky possible.... Peters [is] an unblemished delight."—Washington Post

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From Amazon

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

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Nostalgia Sept. 26 2002
Format:Hardcover
Yes, Nostalgia about sums up the essential element of the Toby Peters
mystery series, and this entry continues the tradition. Author Kaminsky
is an authority on the golden age of Hollywood, and his Peters series
abounds with name-dropping references to every conceiveable
food, drink, movie, gossip, auto, appliance, etc. that can be mentioned
in a story. If you ever wondered what brands of chewing gum, soft drink, auto, etc. were used by people in the '40s, the author supplies
the brand name. And, interestingly, most found are those that no longer
exist, so some readers will find their memories touched by old associations long forgotten.
Detective Peters himself drives a Crosley automobile, long-disappeared,
and you will rarely see such a thing even at old-auto shows. They just
weren't saved and haven't been restored; they were too small and too
inexpensive. But small and economical, so they are another example
of a product ahead of its time.
But the nostalgia is a very nice backdrop to a pleasant set of mysteries,
and the reader gets a nice intro to the detective's mind-set when
introduced to his cat, which is named after Dashiell Hammett. When you
think of Hammett, you are on your way to a nice entertainment.
This time, Peters gets called by Cary Grant, and they set off on an adventure where they chase and neutralize some Nazi spys, but only
after Peters gets his usual quota of blows to the head and punches to
the body, as well as a few forays into brambles and brush. All typical
for this detective, but we end up sympathizing with him and all his aches
and pains.
After all, Cary Grant trusts and likes him, so how can we do any less?
This story contains a trip down memory lane and a satisfactory mystery.
Recommended for all mystery lovers.
Was this review helpful to you?
4.0 out of 5 stars Private Eye to the Classic Hollywood Stars Sept. 26 2002
Format:Hardcover
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.
Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
4.0 out of 5 stars fun and nostalgic Jan. 22 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I love these books; they are a fun read for anyone who likes
history, old movies, tongue in cheek humor, and a wonderful
hero, Toby Peters, who is truly "bloody but unbowed"; the
wacky supporting characters are what make the books age so
well, along with a vein of seriousness that runs underneath
the fluff; if these books were filmed 10 years ago, Harrison
Ford would have been a perfect Toby Peters (and who is to say
he still wouldn't?); a tease-- finding out what "Trout Plaut"
is is just one of the many good reasons to read this book!
Was this review helpful to you?
4.0 out of 5 stars Grace & Favors Sept. 23 2002
Format:Hardcover
For Stuart Kaminsky this is a very light, even frivolous mystery. Cary Grant's presence in a serious case seems to add froth. But it is immensely readable. Just try to put this spy tale down without finding out where the spies are, how Gunther's research is going, or if Mrs. Plaut will ever make sense! Even Jeremy's poetry becomes more beguiling.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Private Eye to the Classic Hollywood Stars Sept. 26 2002
By Mel Odom - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
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.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nostalgia Sept. 26 2002
By bill runyon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Yes, Nostalgia about sums up the essential element of the Toby Peters
mystery series, and this entry continues the tradition. Author Kaminsky
is an authority on the golden age of Hollywood, and his Peters series
abounds with name-dropping references to every conceiveable
food, drink, movie, gossip, auto, appliance, etc. that can be mentioned
in a story. If you ever wondered what brands of chewing gum, soft drink, auto, etc. were used by people in the '40s, the author supplies
the brand name. And, interestingly, most found are those that no longer
exist, so some readers will find their memories touched by old associations long forgotten.
Detective Peters himself drives a Crosley automobile, long-disappeared,
and you will rarely see such a thing even at old-auto shows. They just
weren't saved and haven't been restored; they were too small and too
inexpensive. But small and economical, so they are another example
of a product ahead of its time.
But the nostalgia is a very nice backdrop to a pleasant set of mysteries,
and the reader gets a nice intro to the detective's mind-set when
introduced to his cat, which is named after Dashiell Hammett. When you
think of Hammett, you are on your way to a nice entertainment.
This time, Peters gets called by Cary Grant, and they set off on an adventure where they chase and neutralize some Nazi spys, but only
after Peters gets his usual quota of blows to the head and punches to
the body, as well as a few forays into brambles and brush. All typical
for this detective, but we end up sympathizing with him and all his aches
and pains.
After all, Cary Grant trusts and likes him, so how can we do any less?
This story contains a trip down memory lane and a satisfactory mystery.
Recommended for all mystery lovers.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Toby Peters is a riot! Oct. 8 2004
By Billy J. Hobbs - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Stuart Kaminsky's creative output seems endless. With his Toby Peters (private investigator) series, we go tongue in cheek with our erstwhile gumshoe detective-and willingly. In "To Catch a Spy," Toby is hired to help out Cary Grant (Toby's resume with

Hollywood figures include Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Charlie Chaplin, and others).

It's 1943 and America (and Hollywood) is caught up in the wartime fervor and patriotism. However, the sordid, domestic side of life continues, war or not, and Mr. Grant hires

Toby to help him retrieve some "sensitive, personal documents," no doubt compromising to the Hollywood heart throb! Alas and alack, there's the accompanying murder and Toby and Cary are off to the races (Grant, incidentally, is working for the British Intelligence Service), bungling, stumbling, and finally emerging victoriously (of course!).

Kaminsky, a noted film historian, is right at home with the Hollywood setting. His wit, cleverness, and fast-paced writing make this series go right down to the wire with plenty of excitement, humor, and even adventure!

This is the 22nd Peters episode and Kaminsky certainly has plenty of possible stars to put at Peters' disposal! This book (and series) should appeal to anyone who's fond of the Golden Age of Hollywood era; however, one doesn't have to be a big film buff to enjoy the story line (but it probably helps!).
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Grace & Favors Sept. 23 2002
By Kathleen C. Griffin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
For Stuart Kaminsky this is a very light, even frivolous mystery. Cary Grant's presence in a serious case seems to add froth. But it is immensely readable. Just try to put this spy tale down without finding out where the spies are, how Gunther's research is going, or if Mrs. Plaut will ever make sense! Even Jeremy's poetry becomes more beguiling.
4.0 out of 5 stars fun and nostalgic Jan. 22 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I love these books; they are a fun read for anyone who likes
history, old movies, tongue in cheek humor, and a wonderful
hero, Toby Peters, who is truly "bloody but unbowed"; the
wacky supporting characters are what make the books age so
well, along with a vein of seriousness that runs underneath
the fluff; if these books were filmed 10 years ago, Harrison
Ford would have been a perfect Toby Peters (and who is to say
he still wouldn't?); a tease-- finding out what "Trout Plaut"
is is just one of the many good reasons to read this book!
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