Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Murder on Location: Howard Engel

When Howard Engel wrote his first crime fiction novel he set out to have a different kind of private detective as the hero. Benny Cooperman, first featured in The Suicide Murders, is Canadian and Jewish; he is easy going and doesn't carry a gun. Benny works in Grantham, Ontario, a fictional town modeled after St. Catherines, Ontario, which is in Canada's Niagara Region.

This book, Murder on Location (1982), is the third novel in the Benny Cooperman series. The story opens in Niagara Falls on the Canadian side of the river. Benny is searching for a missing person, the wife of a businessman. Billie Mason, the missing wife, may have gone to Niagara Falls hoping to get a bit part in a movie production. While trying to locate Billie, Benny discovers a dead body and his life gets more complicated. He has to determine whether Billie's disappearance is related to her interactions with the Hollywood actors and crews who are filming in Niagara Falls, or if the shady crooks who are associated with her husband are responsible.


The main attraction in these books, from my point of view, is Benny Cooperman and his family and friends. Benny seems to subsist on egg-salad sandwiches and bagels. He has a good relationship with the policemen he encounters. He spends time with his parents and he is just generally a good guy.

I enjoyed this book particularly because the story revolves around the making of a film, and the setting is near Niagara Falls. Benny and several other characters have been involved in amateur theatrical productions, and that is always fun to read about. The story itself gets convoluted and I was continually confused by the multitude of characters. Yet I admired Benny's determined search for Billie, and I did want to know how it all worked out in the end.

I will be continuing this series for two reasons. One is that I have grown to enjoy reading Canadian crime fiction and getting that opportunity to learn more about that country. I am participating in the 8th Annual Canadian Book Challenge which runs from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015.

I was originally motivated to read this series when I read about an unusual event in Howard Engel's life. In July 2001 he suffered a stroke that resulted in a rare condition called alexia sine agraphia. He could no longer read and his memory was affected. After recovering (to a certain extent), he wrote another mystery featuring Benny Cooperman, titled Memory Book (2005). In that book, Cooperman suffers from the same disorder that Engel has. I wanted to read earlier books in the series before reading Memory Book, but it is taking me a while to get to that goal, so I may have to rethink my strategy.

I reviewed the 2nd book in the series, The Ransom Game, here.

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Publisher:   St. Martin's Press, 1982
Length:      222 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Benny Cooperman, #3
Setting:      Ontario, Niagara Region
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.

20 comments:

  1. I like the sound of this book's setting very much! And Cooperman sounds like a different kind of protagonist, which also appeals to me. I know what you mean about keeping all of the characters straight, but still, this sounds like a good read.

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    1. I do like this series so far, Margot. There are a couple of old TV movies based on this series starring Saul Rubinek, who would be perfect as Benny. Wish I could see those.

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  2. I don't think I've read anything by this author, thanks for introducing him. I like books on filmsets nearly as much as I like ones set in theatres.

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    1. Moira, there is less about the movie itself than I would have liked, but the actors and other contributors to the movie feature strongly and the background of Niagara Falls add interest too.

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  3. You've piqued my interest, Tracy! I enjoy reading Canadian authors and been to Niagara many times!

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    1. I am envious, Peggy, I would love to see Niagara just once. I definitely think you would like this one.

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  4. I very much enjoy this series, although I must say that this isn't my favourite - There just seemed too many players to keep track of.

    I saw Engel read many years ago, but I didn't know about his stroke. I must follow up with Memory Book.

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    1. Glad to hear from someone else who has read these books, Debbie. I agree, too many characters, but still enjoyable for me.

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  5. TracyK: It has been years since I read Benny Cooperman. I cannot give a good reason not to have read more in the series. It is interesting to note that he does not carry a gun. He is one of several Canadian fictional sleuths who do not have a gun. It becomes most noticeable when comparing with American sleuths. It is a rare American sleuth who is not armed with a gun.

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    1. I know, Bill, the fact about the use of guns is very interesting to me. I am not in favor of guns myself, but living in the US and coming from the South, I forget that other countries are different and have less of that problem. There are fictional US private detectives who don't like guns, but they are in the minority.

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  6. I have to try this series Tracy - I really want to though as I like the sound of the character and family emphasis, thanks very much for th ereview. And really sounds like that last one should be left until last (ahem).

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    1. I hope you do try the series sometime, Sergio. I am sure I won't get to Memory Book for a while, but there are 7 books between this one and Memory book that I have not read. I may decide to skip a few.

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  7. Tracy, I'm tempted to try this series after reading your review and Bill's comment.

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    1. I think you would like the series, Prashant. I don't know how easy the books are to find.

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  8. What an interesting story about his illness. He sounds an author to look out for. Thanks.

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    1. It is interesting, Sarah. I wish I had a few extra hours every day to read so I could keep up with all the series that appeal.

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  9. I'm enjoying your reviews of the Engel-Cooperman books and I reckon I would enjoy them myself. I recall buying one of them probably on your recommendation, and I'm kind of envious of you, but the reality is if I bought them they would only gather dust...I ought to read what I have

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    1. I have quite a few books gathering dust right now, Col, and I keep buying them and then kicking myself. Right now, I wish I had more Cooperman books in house.

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  10. TracyK, I've got a couple of this series sitting on the TBR pile (including The Suicide Murders). It sounds like I need to get to those sooner rather than later...

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    1. Bev, I have found them to be interesting and I think they are worth the read. They are somewhat different from the standard private detective novel.

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