The year 1942 is a bad time to stage Madama Butterfly. Although Puccini's masterpiece is a perennial favorite of the San Francisco opera crowd, its sympathetic depiction of a Japanese girl causes tension in the dark months following Pearl Harbor. Newspaper editorialists rage against the production, opera buffs picket the theater, and a note appears nailed to the house door, threatening violence against the cast and crew. When the first workman dies, the maestro calls Toby Peters, a Los Angeles detective who works discreetly for Hollywood's rich and famous.
Two days remain before the opening night, and the body count continues to rise. As he hunts for this self-styled phantom of the opera, Toby falls for one of the company starlets. They must tread lightly, or risk a death more dramatic than anything Puccini ever dreamed of.
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.
I t all started on a Friday in mid-December 1942. A woman who identified herself as Lorna Bartholomew called. Behind her a dog was yapping. The woman said, "Miguelito, be quiet," asked me if I was free to come to San Francisco immediately to take on an "assignment." The dog kept yapping.
It was raining in Los Angeles when she called. I'd been sitting in my office in the Farraday Building, looking out the window, feeling sorry for myself. Before the war I used to sail paper airplanes out the window on rainy days and watch them fight the elements on their way to the alleyway six floors below. But paper was scarce now. Kids collected it, tied it in bundles, and brought it to school in their wagons to contribute to the war effort. S AVE W ASTE P APER a khaki-uniformed soldier on a billboard told us as we drove down Wilshire. The soldier on the billboard had his arm around a little boy whose wagon was piled high with old copies of Collier's and the L.A. Times .
"Just one for old times," I told Dash the cat, who sat on my desk licking the waxed paper of the dime taco from Manny's we had just shared for early lunch. Dash was a big orange beast with a piece of his left ear missing and one eye that didn't want to work with the other one. He's been with me a few months now. I never thought of him as mine. I didn't want to own a cat. I didn't mind sharing my milk and Wheaties and cheap tacos with him, but I didn't want responsibility for his happiness. I'll give Dash credit. He didn't push me. I'd met Dash on a case. He more or less saved my life.
"Watch," I said, folding an ad I'd received the day before from a pair of optometrist brothers named Irick in Glendale who promised me better eyesight with their new lightweight glasses. I held up the work of aeronautic art for Dash's opinion.
Dash stopped licking his paw and watched me open the window, letting in the sounds of rain and traffic on Hoover. He knew something big was up. As I sailed the plane into the rain, Dash leaped to the windowsill. His head moved and at least one of his eyes was fixed on the plane, which swayed, looped, and glided down. Dash purred and watched.
"Pretty good, huh?" I said.
The plane landed somewhere beyond the junked Chevy. An alcoholic named Pettigrew usually slept in the Chevy, but he had gone south to Mexico for the winter.
Anyway, that plane going out the window was the highlight of my week till the phone call came.
Sheldon Minck, who rented me the one-window broom closet I called an office, had stuck his head in to announce the call. Sheldon was working on a little boy when the call came. Sheldon is a dentist. If I were really the civic-minded knight I want people to think I am, I would have spent my days in front of the outer door of our offices warning away the unwary, telling them to flee with their hands held tightly over their mouths to preserve whatever remained of the enamel they prized. But the rent was low, and I couldn't spend my life protecting an unwary public from the unsanitary creatures who lurked in thousands of offices throughout downtown Los Angeles with certificates on their walls claiming they were qualified to pull teeth, collect money from insurance companies, make you a star, tell your fortune, take your picture, find you an orange grove in Lompoc you could turn into a gold mine, or locate your lost grandmother.
Shelly, his bald head gleaming with sweat, his chubby cheeks bouncing, his Dr. Pepper-bottle-bottom glasses slipping on his nose, opened the door and pointed his cigar at me with one hand and reached over to hand me the phone with his other. We'd gotten rid of one phone in the office. Cutting overhead.
"For you," he said. "Long distance. Frisco."
"Thanks," I said, taking the phone and waiting for him to back out of the room.
Shelly brushed an