Toby Peters

Created by Stuart Kaminsky

Toby helps Chico Marx out of a jam, in You Bet Your Life.

Movie trivia. You’re soaking in it…

Max Allan Collins often touts his (excellent) Nate Heller as the “first historical private detective series,” but Stuart Kaminsky’s 1940’s Hollywood eye TOBY PETERS preceded him by six years or so.

Collins’ gritty, blood-soaked tales of gangsters, celebrities and conspiracies gone wild have certainly left their mark, but Kaminsky’s genial, unabashedly entertaining blend of nostalgia, Hollywood trivia and detective fiction goes down surprisingly well. They’re light-hearted, but never lightweight.

Toby (né Pevsner) and his older brother Phil grew up in Glendale, California. They both worked in their pop’s grocery store, and they both grew up to become cops. But somewhere along the line, their paths diverged.

Phil stayed with the cops, got married, got promoted, got kids, etc. Toby got into trouble. A lot.

He got canned, got married, got divorced, got a job as security guard at Warner Brothers, got the boot by Jack Warner himself after Toby broke the arm of some cowboy star who “made the mistake of thinking he was as tough in person as on the screen.” Down on his luck, running out of options, Toby set up shop as a private eye, not particularly fussy about the kind of cases he takes.

The books work well as good old-fashioned, B-movie entertainment. Not too heavy, with straight-forward plots and full of wonderfully colourful characters who pop in and out of the series with wild abandon. You can just picture character actors playing these roles.

Toby still carries a flame for Ann, his ex-wife; but has a thing for Carmen, a waitress.

Meanwhile, his brother Phil is now a Homicide dick out of the Wiltshire Police district whose favorite means of dealing with Toby is slapping him around.

Then there’s Mrs. Plaut, Toby’s deaf landlady who calls him Mr. Peelers; Jeremy, the sensitive, muscle-bound poet/janitor and former professional wrestler; Gunther, the multi-lingual Swiss midget, and Toby’s best friend; and Sheldon Minck, a cigar-chomping, alcoholic, nearly-blind, incompetent, grubby dentist/oral surgeon who shares an office in the rundown Farady Building with Toby.

The whole series reeks of popcorn. Real popcorn, made with real butter. If you love old movies, this series is a blast from the past.

Stuart Kaminsky came by his love of old films honestly. As well as a fan, he was a professor of film, and wrote screenplays, as well as several books on film theory and criticism. Besides Toby’s adventures, he also wrote a series about a Soviet Police Inspector, two original Rockford Files novels, and Lew Fonescaa Sarasota, Florida P.I. .


  • Sara Paretsky dedicated the first V.I. Warshawski book to Kaminsky, which is kinda cool.
  • John Hegenberger’s Stan Wade series, about a fifties Hollywood dick who seems to bump into an awful lot of celebrities, may seem suspiciously similar to the Toby Peters series, but at least he’s cheeky about it, ‘fessing up by loading up the books with plenty of shout-outs to toby, like having Stan’s office in the Faraday Building, receiving a birthday card from a birthday card from Tobias and Carmen Pevsner.


  • “Kaminsky has such a good time writing, and he so loves the period, that the reader is swept along willy-nilly.”
    — New York Times Book Review
  • “Makes the totally wacky possible…. Peters [is] an unblemished delight.”
    Washington Post



Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Brian Aronson and Gene for keeping their eyes “peeled.”

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