Picks and Pans Review: Poor Butterfly

updated 07/16/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/16/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Stuart M. Kaminsky

High opera and low comedy make a diverting mix in the 15th case for Toby Peters, Kaminsky's retro-detective. It's 1942, and Peters has been hired by maestro Leopold Stokowski, who is conducting a new Madama Butterfly at the San Francisco Metropolitan Opera. (Borrowing real-life figures like Stokowski is one of the amusing ongoing aspects of the Peters series.)

In the anti-Asian hysteria of World War II, the Japanese-American romance in Puccini's work lures picketers from a religious faction and menacing letters from an anonymous source. When the Phantom-like villain begins to dispatch victims, singing relevant arias as he goes about his work, Peters, the sentimental cynic, springs into action.

Kaminsky (he also does the grittier Inspector Rostnikov series about a Moscow cop—the latest is The Man Who Walked like a Bear) writes with breezy grace. Blending zest for the period with enjoyable characters, histrionic violence and operatic lore, this is one of the best Peters outings. (Mysterious Press, $17.95)

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