Kaminsky is a throwback, who merits inclusion on these pages because of his detectives: Toby Peters investigates film stars good and bad in Kaminsky's most famous series (24 books), and his Inspector Inspector Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov is a Moscow police inspector in a second 16-book series that covered almost 30 years.
Born in Chicago in 1934, Kaminsky said that he spent his adolescence immersed in pulp fiction and Hollywood cinema. He earned a B.S. in journalism and an M.A. in English from the University of Illinois, which he attended on a soccer scholarship. After time in the army, Kaminsky wrote film criticism and biographies of the great actors and directors of Hollywood’s golden age.
He earned a Ph.D. in film studies from Northwestern University in 1972, writing his dissertation about director Don Siegel. In 1977, when a planned biography of Charlton Heston fell through, he wrote his first Toby Peters novel, Bullet For A Star. He taught film studies at Northwestern for 16 years, and then at Florida State for six years.
His detective, Kaminsky said, was the anti-Phillip Marlowe, somewhat shabby but gentle, polite and reflective even when his cases were not. A stickler for historic detail, Kaminsly's series in both Hollywood and Moscow were praised for their period accuracy down to the smallest details.
He was a president of the Mystery Writers of American and cited as a source of inspiration by fellow-Chicagoan Sara Paretsky, who dedicated her first novel to him. His most famous novels were Bullet for a Star, which introduced Toby Peters, whose client was Errol Flynn; “To Catch a Spy, which featured Cary Grant; and Mildred Pierced, in which a woman is shot with a crossbow, and only Joan Crawford can save her innocent husband from wrongful conviction.
This kind of intertextual play highlighted Kaminsky's novels. "Toby Peters" is a combination of his first two childrens' names. In the Rostnikov series, the detective is a covert fan of Ed McBain mysteries. In The Melting Clock (1991), Toby Peters works for Salvador Dali, who remarks that “Very few people know who I am, and I am not one of them.”
Kaminsky also wrote for television and film. He died of hepititus while waiting for a liver transplant.