Thursday, February 20, 2020

16. The Suicide Murders by Howard Engel

My wife found this nice hardcover first edition from 1980 at Chainon.  I doubt it is worth much but it is in really good condition.  I have a faint memory of having read a Benny Cooperman mystery before.  My mom may have passed it down to me.  Anyways, it looked like one of those page-turning 80s mysteries and as a bonus it took place in Canada.

Benny Cooperman is a sort of sad sack Jewish private detective who is barely making two ends meet on the odd divorce case, except that he seems to stumble upon big interesting cases at least once a book.  He grew up in and now works in Grantham, Ontario, which I think is a real place along the Toronto-Windsor corridor.  In this first book, he is hired by an attractive upperclass woman who thinks her husband is having an affair.  Cooperman quickly learns that his lying and absences are actually visits to a therapist.  He believes the case closed and is about to deliver the news to his client, when he learns that the husband, a wealthy developer, has just blown his brains out.  The cops treat it as an open and shut suicide but Cooperman, who had followed the man to a sporting goods store where he had bought a new 10-speed bicycle is skeptical.  He keeps digging around and uncovers a lot of dirt in this medium-sized Ontario town: city hall shenanigans, blackmail, old boys with sordid pasts.  As he digs, there are more deaths.

It never explodes and the mystery is never intriguing enough that I was dying to find out what happened, but the investigating is steady and interesting.  The locations are well described and believable and he manages to make what is possibly the most neutral, boring place on earth, Ontario, actually sound like it could have a real mystery in it, no mean feat.  He has a funny relationship with his parents as well.  This was very much an 80s mystery, with lots of light wisecracking (a bit too much in the beginning but it found a nice rhythm by the end) and the detective himself being a big character in the proceedings.  Enjoyable!

Addendum: Here is a nice obituary of Howard Engel, who died in July of 2019.  Had a stroke in 2001 where he lost the ability to read but could still write!  Man, that would be brutal.  Seems like a good guy.

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