Monday, February 17, 2014

The Fala Factor - Stuart M. Kaminsky

It's back to the world of Toby Peters, as this time he's sent out to retrieve FDR's missing Scotty by none other than Eleanor Roosevelt. As usual, Toby winds up in proximity to dead bodies, which raises the ire of his cop brother, Phil. Not that it takes much to raise Phil's ire. He brings in some help this time, both his neighbor Gunther (who was actually a suspect in Murder on the Yellow Brick Road), and the owner of his office building, Jeremy, former wrestler turned poet. We meet Dr. Hodgman, who patches Toby up so he still has a handball opponent. And Phil is promoted to captain. Hey, if it keeps him off the street, and away from suspects he can beat, all the better. Phil being condemned to a career of dealing with petty public complaints is a perfect hell for him.

That's nice, but it's mostly just window dressing. A few new touches to keep the formula from getting stale. Somewhat more amusing is that the dognapping leads to the fledgling New Whig Party, which is described as being composed of people who felt even the most conservative Republicans were too soft. Kaminsky predicted the rise of the Tea Party 25 years early, though the New Whigs are considerably less successful than the Tea Party.

What caught my interest was the position Kaminsky places Peters in at the start of the book. Peters is down to 4 dollars in his name, and seriously considering applying to Grumman as a night watchman. But it's the last resort. When he became a private investigator, he swore no more uniforms. The days of being a cop or a security guard were behind him. And despite the fact it cost him his marriage, the respect of his brother (though I doubt that was ever in effect, his choice of profession definitely doesn't help), and isn't doing his nose or general health any good, he sticks with it. It gives him something he needs, an excuse to exercise his natural curiosity, perhaps.

That was the hook that really got my attention. The idea of Toby as someone trying his best to follow a dream, and make a sufficient living off it in the process. To find answers to the questions he finds, despite a lack of any particular gifts beyond stubbornness. He's not that bright, not big, not fast, not a good fighter, a lousy shot, kind of looks like a bum, has a crappy car, lives off tacos, Pepsi, and Shredded Wheat. But that's largely OK with him.

It's different than with Kamisnky's Porfiry Petrovich books, because Porfiry was fairly intelligent and harder to read. For him, the challenge is to do his job the best he can without making too many of the wrong enemies, which is no mean trick in the Soviet Union, age of glastnost or not.

'I was one hell of an on-the-spot liar. It was what every good private detective had to be in a world of liars. Phil, on the other hand, was a lousy liar. He didn't have to lie. He had a cop's badge and the gun that went with it.'

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