The Melting Clock

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Toby Peters never shot a man, but he’s killed a lot of time. Unfortunately, this disappointing entry in author Stuart Kaminsky’s long-running series of novels about the L.A. gumshoe will leave the reader feeling about as engaged as a detective on surveillance.

Peters is a soft-boiled private investigator, less Sam Spade than Chester A. Riley—a good natured guy with bad luck, but a unique client list. In this, the sixteenth in Kaminsky’s series set in 1940’s Los Angeles, the hapless dick is working for surrealist painter Salvador Dali. Dali, a shameless self-promoter, need Peters to find three of his missing paintings and three of his wife’s missing Russian clocks. If not, the artist’s public image will suffer and his career may even be ruined.

After a strong start, the plot skids to a stop and haltingly resumes its story in flashback, until an unsatisfying resolution some 190 pages later. Kaminsky, a college teacher and writer of other novels and nonfiction books, usually exploits the time and place to lively and pleasing effects. The series characters run the gamut from Peters’ brother Phil, a cop, and his family to a wrestler/poet pal and a scholarly dwarf—plus the celebrities, which have ranged from Errol Flynn to the Marx Brothers.

THE MELTING CLOCK features a bit of snappy dialogue and occasional color: Baby Snooks on the radio in the Crosley car Peters drives; Abbott & Costello in the papers; Dr. Lyon’s tooth powder on the store shelves. However, aside from some amusing action as Peters gains access to a San Pedro shipyard, Kaminsky’s style barely compensates for the lack of substance.

By the end, readers will have enjoyed some of the ride, but arrive nowhere. Killing time is fine for a stakeout, but in books it’s boring.