Though an otherwise unremarkable woman, Mildred Minck has the distinction of being the first citizen of Los Angeles to be murdered by crossbow. The police find her dentist husband, Sheldon, standing over the body with the weapon, swearing that only Joan Crawford can identify the real killer. An insanity defense seems a natural fit, but Sheldon wants his neighbor, private investigator Toby Peters, to prove his innocence. The dentist is telling the truth about one thing: Joan Crawford was there.
The silver screen beauty is in the middle of a comeback, and begs Toby to keep her name out of it. She points Toby towards the Survivors of the Future, a merry band of crackpot survivalists that the dentist was hoping to join. Sheldon's new friends want him sprung, but only because they want him dead.
About the Author.
Stuart M. Kaminsky (1934-2009) was one of the most prolific crime fiction authors of the last four decades. Born in Chicago, he spent his youth immersed in pulp fiction and classic cinema - two forms of popular entertainment which he would make his life's work. After college and a stint in the army, Kaminsky wrote film criticism and biographies of the great actors and directors of Hollywood's Golden Age. In 1977, when a planned biography of Charlton Heston fell through, Kaminsky wrote Bullet for a Star, his first Toby Peters novel, beginning a fiction career that would last the rest of his life.
Kaminsky penned twenty-four novels starring the detective, whom he described as 'the anti-Philip Marlowe.' In 1981's Death of a Dissident, Kaminsky debuted Moscow police detective Porfiry Rostnikov, whose stories were praised for their accurate depiction of Soviet life. His other two series starred Abe Lieberman, a hardened Chicago cop, and Lew Fonseca, a process server. In all, Kaminsky wrote more than sixty novels. He died in St. Louis in 2009.
'Kaminsky stands out as a subtle historian, unobtrusively but entertainingly weaving into the story itself what people were wearing, eating, driving, and listening to on the radio. A page-turning romp.' - Booklist.
'If you like your mysteries Sam Spade tough, with tongue-in-cheek and a touch of the theatrical, then the Toby Peters series is just your ticket.' - Houston Chronicle.
'For anyone with a taste for old Hollywood B-movie mysteries, Edgar winner Kaminsky offers plenty of nostalgic fun . . . The tone is light, the pace brisk, the tongue firmly in cheek.' - Publishers Weekly.
'Marvelously entertaining.' - Newsday.
'Makes the totally wacky possible . . . Peters [is] an unblemished delight.' - Washington Post.
'The Ed McBain of Mother Russia.' - Kirkus Reviews.
U NTIL W EDNESDAY AFTERNOON January 5, 1944, there had been no deaths, intentional or accidental, caused by the firing of a crossbow in the recorded history of Los Angeles County.
On that day, while the German army of Field Marshal Fritz von Manstein was retreating into the Pripet marshes in Poland and the U.S. Marines were driving the Japanese back at Cape Gloucester in New Britain in the Pacific, Mildred Binder Minck made history.
The day after Mildred's historic demise, I sat across from her grieving widower, Sheldon Minck, D.D.S., in a room in the Los Angeles County Jail.
The Los Angeles County Hall of Justice on Temple Street between Broadway and Spring takes up a city block. It's fourteen stories of limestone and granite, an Italian Renaissance style building with rusticated stonework, heavy cornices, and a two-story colonnade at the top.
The L.A. County Jail occupies the five top stories. Sheldon Minck, D.D.S., was occupying only one chair on the fourth floor of the jail. He faced me through a wall of thick wire mesh.
"Toby, I didn't do it," he said.
Shelly Minck is not a thing of beauty to behold when he's at his best, happily drilling into or removing the tooth of a trapped patient. Seated on the other side of the wire, he was not at his best.
"I mean, I don't think I did it," he added.
Shelly wore a pair of dark slacks and a long-sleeved wrinkled gray shirt. His thick glasses rested, as they usually did, at the end of his ample nose. Beads of sweat danced on his bald head and his large stomach heaved with frequent sighs.
"They won't let me have a cigar," he complained. "Is that fair?"
I didn't answer. He squinted around the room. Along either side of the mesh wall were chairs facing each other, twelve chairs, and a narrow wooden shelf on either side so prisoners could drum their fingers, fold their hands, or examine their bitten nails. On the other side, lawyers could take notes or safely give their clients bad news.
There was only one other prisoner with a visitor. He was a thin man with wild hair who needed a shave. His visitor was an even thinner woman with even more wild hair, who needed to decide which of the three colors that roamed through that hair was the one she planned to live with.
It was early in the morning, and each newly arrested inmate was allowed a morning visitor the day after his arrest.
"You should have called Marty Leib," I said.
Marty Leib was a criminal defense attorney whom I called when I needed legal rescue. As a licensed private investigator, I needed rescue more often than I could afford so I saved his services for emergencies. Marty was good, expensive, immoral. He wore fine clothes, weighed about three hundred pounds, and always seemed happy to hear from me and start the fee clock ticking.
"You call him for me. It's you I need. You find criminals," said Shelly.
"I conduct investigations for paying clients," I said.
Shelly looked hurt. Shelly looked as if he were going to weep. I cut him off.
"Okay, I'll call Marty."
"And you'll help me?"
I sublet a small office off of Sheldon Minck's dental chamber of horrors in the Farraday Building downtown. The office was not soundproof. I knew when Shelly had a patient. I could hear the drill, the screams and Shelly's soothing voice either singing or trying to calm the hysterical patient with his singing. Shelly thought he sounded like Nelson Eddy. On one of his better days, I thought he approached Andy Devine.
"I'll see what I can do," I said.
He looked at his hands. His glasses almost fell off. He pushed them back.
"Why would I kill Mildred?"
I could come up with four good reasons. Mildred had not long ago thrown Shelly out of their house, cleaned out their joint bank account, taken in a