Saturday, October 10, 2009

Stuart M. Kaminsky, 75, dies

The American author Stuart M. Kaminsky was a prolific writer and a fine respite for my occasional busman's holidays from crime beyond borders.

Kaminsky was probably best known for his lighthearted Toby Peters mysteries, set amid the singers, stars and other celebrities of Hollywood's Golden Age, and the Inspector Rostnikov series, set in Russia. (I believe he wrote at least the first of these before ever visiting the country.) He also wrote television tie-ins, stand-alone novels, and several books about American movie figures.

I especially liked two of his other series. The news of Kaminsky's death comes by way of Sarah Weinman. Here's a comment I left on her blog:
Someone recently commented that female crime authors write happily married protagonists more than men do.

Kaminsky’s Abe Lieberman is not just happily, lovingly married, he’s a grandparent. He’s also a detective unafraid to use violence when he has to, and he’s Jewish. That’s not a typical combination. More to the point, the religion and culture are not mere ethnic window dressing. They figure prominently in some of the stories. Lieberman has to be one of the more underrated characters in American crime fiction.

And Lew Fonesca springs from one of the more beguiling premises I know of. How can you not love a character who hits the road after his wife dies, settles in Sarasota, because that’s where his car conks out, lives in his office, and hangs out at the Dairy Queen?
(To clear up a frequent faux-pas and to facilitate searches if you try to track down Kaminsky's work, Fonesca is the correct spelling in the preceding paragraph. The character's name is frequently misspelled Fonseca.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009



Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Very sad news about Stuart Kaminsky.
Didn't Toby Peters nee Pevsner have an eccentric dentist as a side kick? And don't say all dentists are eccentric. :0)

October 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I found out only yesterday that Toby Peters was nee Pevsner, and I didn't know he had an eccentric dentist as an assistant. (I've only ever read his Lieberman and Fonesca books. The one Toby Peters I'd tried was a bit light in tone for my tastes.)

As for dentists and their state of mind, my dentist -- and I speak as a patient who had a nice chunk of titanium implanted in his head only last month -- has as fine a chairside manner as any I have known. We once discussed Marathon Man while he was going about his business. But I can see where you would like a series that featured a colorful dentist.

Two of my colleagues at work attended Northwestern University and took courses with Kaminsky. Only last week, one of them asked me if I'd heard of this Kaminsky guy. Another link in the chain of coincidence: Kaminsky's name came up in a discussion that had begun with Philip Kerr. After our discussion, I sent my colleague the links to your interview with Kerr.

October 10, 2009  
Anonymous Mike Dennis said...

I'm shocked to hear of Stuart's death. I met him back in 2002 in Sarasota, where he lived, and he told me the following story.

Back in the early 80s, he was approached by representatives of Sergio Leone, the great Italian film director ("A Fistful Of Dollars", "The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly", "Once Upon A Time In The West") to add some dialogue to a new movie Leone was going to make. The movie would be called "Once Upon A Time In America", and would star Robert DeNiro, James Woods, and Tuesday Weld.

It was a sprawling tale of Jewish gangsters in New York City following their lives as boys in the 1910s to older men in the 1960s. The scope was almost unimaginable, but Leone had his arms firmly around it. He called Stuart in to a meeting one day to discuss the project. Since Leone spoke no English, and Stuart didn't speak Italian, there was an interpreter.

Through the interpreter, Leone told Stuart he wanted dialogue added to the script. He handed Stuart the script and to Stuart's amazement, there was only camera direction and indications of what the characters might say, written in broken English. There was not one word of actual dialogue.

Stuart had to write every word of dialogue for that film, and the final director's cut (which is the only one to see--do NOT watch the chopped-up studio version) was over three hours long! He did a masterful job, and was given credit only at the end of the film. His name was the first to appear in the final credits as "Additional dialogue: Stuart Kaminsky".

October 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a great story. The IMDB entry for the movie lists seven writers, one of them uncredited, in addition to "Stuart Kaminsky (additional dialogue)." One wonders what those seven other guys did.

October 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

By the way, I like the path that his career followed. He lived in Chicago for years and wrote novels set there. Then he moved to Sarasota, of which he offered vivid pictures in the Lew Fonesca books. There's something reassuringly workmanlike about that. He was able to soak up the atmosphere wherever he lived, and put it into his stories. One wonders what he might have written about St. Louis.

October 10, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

"One wonders what he might have written about St. Louis."

Tonight? It would be bleak. Having your home team get swept in the first round of the baseball playoffs (against all conventional baseball pundit wisdom) will do that to you.

Gloat? Who, me?

October 11, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Heh! You may be forgiven that moment of irreverence in your joy over the Dodgers' sweep.

Too bad they may not get to play a next series if the Phillies and the Rockies get permanently snowed out.

October 11, 2009  

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