Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Ransom Game: Howard Engel

Howard Engel set out to create a different type of private detective in his books, per an interview with Bill Gladstone:
"I had read a lot of mystery novels over the years, and I decided I would try to make a character who wasn’t like any of the others," he said. "Where one American detective was fast with his fists, Benny Cooperman was going to avoid confrontation. Where the others were American and Christian, Benny Cooperman was going to be Canadian and Jewish. And where most of the American and British detectives came from large cities like New York, London, San Francisco or Los Angeles, Benny Cooperman was going to come from a small town."
The Ransom Game (1981) is the second book in the series, following The Suicide Murders. Benny is hired to locate a paroled ex-con, by his girlfriend. He is missing and she fears he has come to harm. Her boyfriend, Johnny Rosa, was in prison for kidnapping a wealthy young woman, and the ransom money has never turned up. Obviously, there are lots of people interested in where the money is located. All of them assume that Johnny has it hidden somewhere.

The story takes us through several twists and turns, to both the less savory parts of town and the wealthy family of the girl who was kidnapped.

In most of the books in the series (based on reviews and articles), Benny's family is prominent, especially his parents. In The Ransom Game, they don't figure much in the story. His parents and his brother have all gone to Florida and left Benny in the cold of Grantham, in Canada. This is the third book that I have read recently that mentions that many Canadians go to Florida in the winter. I had no idea. The books were by three different Canadian authors, so it must be true.

A recent blog post by Margot at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist... noted that private eyes are often scraping by, with not much money to live on. This certainly seems to be the case for Benny. He lives in a hotel room, which he describes in the book:
Here the dusty curtains, the pile of books on the chair, the laundry balled up with promises in the cupboard, the faint chemical smell that came from the sheets, even when they had been changed, always got me thinking the things I didn't want to be thinking about.
My take:

Overall, I enjoyed the book. The main character is interesting; I liked a lot of the secondary characters, especially the policemen who help him out with the case. The author kept me guessing as to the solution of the mystery, and some red herrings played out realistically.

My only quibble with these books is that the two I have read so far seem formulaic, and follow a typical plot line of the hard-boiled private eye novels. Private eye is approached by beautiful young woman; private eye takes the case, of course. He falls for some beautiful female involved in the case. This one follows the standard story even though the detective is not so hard-boiled, not macho at all.

About a third of the way in, I forgot all about that, and just enjoyed the story for what it is. I will be trying more of the ten remaining books in this series. I recommend that you give this series a try if you like private eye novels.

I read this book for the Canadian Book Challenge 6. The book is set in a small city in Canada near Niagara Falls: Grantham, Ontario. This town is based on the real city of St. Catharines, Ontario, where the author was born.

12 comments:

  1. Tracy, damn....I came over here to check again on the John Brady write up and perhaps see if that's something to pursue and you sideswipe me with this guy! Have a heart, please!
    (Note to self...Engel/Cooperman)

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    1. The author and the series are both interesting, even though private detectives are not usually my favorites sleuths. (excepting Pronzini's Nameless and Rex Stout's Archie Goodwin, of course) I hope you do give the books a try.

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  2. Tracy, I need to find this author! I'm not sure I'm gonna make it to all 13 books for the challenge yikes!

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    1. I am having trouble finishing up the Canadian reading challenge also. Too many commitments, all in the same timeframe. But I liking the authors I am trying for the first time.

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  3. Tracy - I am so impressed that you're even engaging in these challenges, even if you're not all the way through. I'm glad you liked this one overall :-).

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    1. Margot, I am enjoying the challenges, even the ones I doubt I will finish. I have been motivated to read Gail Bowen and Anthony Bidulka, as you know, and others I might not have tried otherwise.

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  4. Sounds good Tracy and another book towards your challenge. Like Margot I'm impressed with the amount of challenges your doing.

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    1. Thanks, Sarah. I have probably over-challenged myself but so far I am enjoying all I have read.

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  5. I've not read any of these TracyK but I'm a big fan of private eye novels so ti will be interesting to see if the patterns you detected were maintained across the series (which could get wearisome very quickly) or varied successfully - thanks very much

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    1. Sergio, it will be interesting. There is a later book I am aiming at reading so I may just sample a few between, and not try to read every one.

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  6. I may have to look for this book with a different cover, the doll creeps me out.

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    1. Ryan, I agree, it is a creepy cover. And I am surprised my husband got such a good scan, it was very dark.

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