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"To Catch a Spy"

A commentary by Shelby Peck

To Catch a Spy: A Toby Peters Mystery

One of my favorite mystery authors is Stuart Kaminsky.

He is the author of 50 published novels, 5 biographies, 4 textbooks, and 35 short stories. He also has screenwriting credits on four produced films which include, Once Upon A Time In America, Enemy Territory, A Woman In The Wind, and Hidden Fears.

He is past president of the Mystery Writers of America, and has been nominated for six Edgar Allen Poe mystery book awards.

Stuart Kaminsky writes several popular mystery series including those featuring:

Lew Fonesca, (An investigator for local attorneys in Sarasota Florida.)

Abraham Lieberman, (A 60 -something Jewish police detective and his Irish-Catholic partner in Chicago Illinois.)

Inspector Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov, (A Russian police inspector in Moscow, Russia) and, imagine Peter Falk as Columbo. Take away his raincoat, give him a boxer-like flattened nose, put him into the Los Angeles and Hollywood of the 1940s when and where I grew up, and you have my favorite Stuart Kaminsky character, the well-beaten private investigator, who is so impoverished, that he's not particularly fussy about the kinds of cases he takes.

His name is Tobias Leo Pevner aka Toby Peters, and unlike his creator Stuart Kaminsky, who was born in Chicago, Toby and his brother Phil, grew up in Glendale, California, where both of them worked in their father's grocery store.

They both became cops, but while brother Phil got married, got promoted, got married, got kids, etc., Toby got married, got fired, got divorced, then got a job at Warner Brothers Studio.

Unfortunately, after he broke the arm of some cowboy star who, "made the mistake of thinking that he was as tough in person as he was on screen", Toby got canned by the boss himself, Jack Warner.

Down on his luck without a buck, and running out of options, Toby rented space in what can only be termed, " a broom closet with window, desk, and two chairs", located in a section of the dental office of Sheldon Minck D.D.S., who can only loosely be termed an oral surgeon.

It was here that he set up shop as a private eye.

While helping his client Judy Garland in the 1977 book Murder On The Yellow-Brick Road, Toby saved the life of Gunther Wherthman. Gunther was a former munchkin in the Garland movie, The Wizard of Oz, as well as a multi-lingual translator for the government.

This little person became Toby's best friend, and got him a place to live in a boardinghouse owned by Mrs. Plaut, who because of her deafness calls Toby, Mr. Peelers.

Another friend of Toby is Jeremy Butler. He is a sensitive poet, janitor, muscle-bound former professional wrestler, and owner of the building where Toby's "broom closet" is located.

There are now 22 novels in this series, and since the advent of Toby's first client, the swashbuckling Errol Flyn in 1977, Stuart Kaminsky has used his film expertise to bring Toby a host of clients including, the Marx Brothers, Bela Lugosi, Gary Cooper, Mae West, Eleanor Roosevelt, Joe Louis, John Wayne, Clark Gable, and a myriad of others.

His latest client is Cary Grant in, To Catch A Spy.

Combine the Cary Grant who played an American intelligence agent with Ingrid Bergman in "Notorious" and the Cary Grant who played an advertising executive with Eva Marie Saint in "North By Northwest." Instead of Cary and Eva Marie Saint hanging around on top of the presidents' heads on Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota, let him hang around the top of Laurel Canyon in California with Toby Peters, as they attempt To Catch A Spy.

The reason that I like this series, is that those of us who grew up with Old Time Radio and movies on a big theatre screen rather than a TV box, can find references to the shows, the stars, and the history of that period. Another thing that makes me like this series, is that unlike so many books, television movies, and movie screens motion pictures, the Toby Peters series is a family read, with no overt sex and violence.

[An Aside:] In a number of Cary Grant biographies, it states that Grant had been working as a special agent for the British Intelligence Service since the late 1930s, and that several years later, a telegram from Sir William Samuel Stephenson, Head of British Security Coordination, confirmed Grant's role as a secret agent.

In light of the following, this seems quite credible.

In 1940, Winston Churchill dispatched a Canadian industrialist to New York with an extraordinary mission. He was to set up a secret spy network across both North and South America to cripple and confound Nazi propaganda and to fan the flames of pro-war sentiment.

This man, William Stephenson, was known simply as "Intrepid", and it is said that he was the real-life model for Ian Fleming's James Bond.

During the Second World War, the intelligence exploits of this mysterious man were celebrated in his lifetime in espionage lore the world over.

Stephenson set up shop in Rockefeller Center to build a vast intelligence network.

Operating on still-neutral soil, Stephenson's people soon launched an astonishing bagful of dirty tricks., infiltrated labor unions, and spread British propaganda using U.S. radio stations, and enlisted prominent journalists such as Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson to their cause.

From the attacks and invasions upon their neighbors by the Nazis in 1939, to the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, and the subsequent declaration of war by the United States upon Japan on December 8, 1941 and Germany's declaration of war against the United States, Americans had engaged in one of the bitterest debates in their history. This was whether or not to aid Britain at the risk of entering World War II.

Each step taken by the Roosevelt administration brought the United States closer to war: repeal of the arms embargo in 1939, the destroyers-for-bases deal in 1940, and in 1941, the Lend-Lease Act, the occupation of Greenland and Iceland, the presidential order to shoot German submarines "on sight," the arming of merchant vessels, and the removal of the ban of entry into Allied ports.

I haven't seen the alleged "telegram" previously mentioned that supposedly confirmed Cary Grant's work as a special agent for the British Intelligence Services, but I doubt it not.

2002 Self-Publications

To purchase To Catch a Spy, click on the book cover below:

To Catch a Spy: A Toby Peters Mystery

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