The great American film professor, Stuart Kaminsky (1934-2009), introduced readers to Toby Peters in his debut novel Bullet for a Star in 1977. High Midnight is the sixth outing for the Hollywood private investigator who reminds us of many of the hard-boiled detectives of earlier eras. (Personal note: it’s only my fifth Peters reading—anybody wants to send me an elusive copy of Never Cross a Vampire, I’d be glad to read it.)
Peters himself is an icon from days gone by, practicing his stock and trade in the 1940s. This time, he finds himself wrangled into a case working for none other than Gary Cooper. He’s roped into this one because the dentist from whom he sublets his office (“Sheldon P. Minck D.D.S., S.D./ ‘Dentist and Oral Surgeon’”) poses as Toby in order to meet some of the famous people that he is in the habit of working for. Someone is trying, so it seems, to force Cooper to make a B movie with a handful of B actors, a B director, but a pretty fair script.
Throw in a semi-retired Chicago mob boss, three dead bodies, and a hunting party with none other than Ernest ‘Papa’ Hemingway, and you have the makings for a first-rate mystery story. And, as you might have guessed, Kaminsky through the voice of Peters, delivers. In his methodical fashion, our hero works out the whys and wherefores of the murders, the attempted blackmail, and the (almost) identity theft a couple of steps ahead of the police. Just enough to keep himself from being indicted for the murders!
There are several things to enjoy about a good Toby Peters Mystery: fast pacing, historical references from news and newsreels, and super cameo appearances to compliment the staring roles of some of the greats in the heyday of the silver screen. From Hollywood vernacular, I give High Midnight a hearty thumbs up. For constant readers of these reviews, I attribute five out of five reading glasses.