“Someone had murdered a Munchkin. The little man was lying on his back in the middle of the Yellow Brick Road with his startled eyes looking into the overhead lights of an M.G.M. sound stage. He might have looked kind of cute in a tinsel-town way if it hadn’t been for the knife sticking out of his chest…”
Toby Peters is a highly principled but low-rent private eye in 1930’s Hollywood. He’s got a bad back, he sublets his office from a dentist with questionable/sadistic skills, and has a brother on the Homicide Squad whose idea of family bonding is a punch to the kidneys and a knee to the groin. However, this unassuming and broken down decorum makes Peters the perfect hire for Tinsel Town’s elite power players in need of help and a little discretion, be it extortion, blackmail or murder.
Murder on the Yellow Brick Road is the second Toby Peter’s mystery knuckled out by author Stuart Kaminsky. There’s about two dozen of them in total, and the hook for each is that they all concern a certain movie star and other, famous people of the time. Here, Peters is hired by Louie B. Mayer himself to investigate the murder of a munchkin on the set of The Wizard of Oz, fearing the real target was Judy Garland. And as he unravels the mystery our detective also crosses paths with Clark Gable and Raymond Chandler, and also picks up a sidekick, of sorts, when he proves another little person didn’t do the deed.
Now, the famous cameos and clients are the decorative frosting that hooks ya — future installments include Gary Cooper, Bela Lugosi and The Marx Brothers, but the mysteries and the minutiae of the era that Kaminsky immerses you in provide enough layers of cake, I think, to keep you coming back for seconds and thirds.