Stuart M. Kaminsky, who passed away last October, was a consistently prolific and gifted author. Perhaps my favorite of his detective series are the stories starring Lew Fonesca, a sad-sack Florida process server. Perhaps it should be noted that although the hero of these books is a depressive, the books are not necessarily depressing. There’s a lot of comedy here (some of it pretty black), and wry humor. Lew is sad, but he knows when he’s being ridiculous.
In any case, I try to do what I can to raise Kaminsky’s profile in the world, while some of his books are still in print. They’re worth reading.
Denial begins with Lew locked in the office which is also his home, refusing to speak to any of his friends. Finally his therapist talks her way in, persuading him to tell her what’s kneecapped his spirits even more than usual.
The body of the story is his account of two detective jobs he was hired for (Lew isn’t actually a private investigator. He’s a retired prosecutor’s investigator from Chicago, now eking out a living as a process server in Sarasota. But people keep bringing problems to him). One job is a serious one, investigating who fatally ran down a teenage boy with a car. The other is almost comic—a lady in a nursing home insists she saw someone murdered in one of their rooms, and wants him to prove she’s not senile.
Lew sets about the jobs in his usual quiet, methodical way, with his friend Ames McKinney, a latter-day Gary Cooper from Texas, providing backup and bodyguard service.
Feathers will be ruffled. Secrets will be uncovered.
People will die.
In the end, Lew makes a life-changing resolution. I ordered the next book the night I finished this one, because I really want to find out how that goes.
Exellent point. That’s entirely true, I believe. Which makes it no surprise that Kaminsky did a number of TV series tie-in novels.
Thanks, Lars. Kaminsky is a kind of writer we don’t see much of nowadays, alas, the mid-lister with an occasional bestseller. Interestingly, the midlist style of writing–smart, competent, interested in conveying good values, and willing to work creatively within the conventions of the chosen genre instead of condescendingly setting out to pervert its aims under the pretext of “stretching its boundaries”–tends to be more common on TV these days, in laudable shows such as Monk, Psych, White Collar, The Mentalist, NCIS, etc.
Yes, Kaminsky’s Toby Peters mysteries are serio-comic romps starring a marginal L.A. private eye who somehow manages to work a large number of cases involving very famous people like Clark Gable, Joe Louis, Douglas MacArthur, etc. Great stuff.
His Russian mysteries are much darker, and I personally couldn’t get into them. Not that they’re not well done; I just found the atmosphere of Soviet Moscow unbearably claustrophic.
He also wrote a very good series about a Chicago police detective named Abe Lieberman.
Nice review, Lars. I read some of Kaminsky’s books a while back, and enjoyed them. Didn’t he do a series set in Golden-Era Hollywood? I seem to remember that those were pretty zany. And then there was a hardboiled series set in Communist Russia, I believe.
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