A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Kathleen L. Maio


HOWARD ENGEL – The Suicide Murders. Benny Cooperman #1. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1984. Penguin, paperback, 1985. Adapted for radio (CBC) and TV (CBC, 1985), with Saul Rubinek starring in the latter as Benny Cooperman.

   Until the 1980s, Canada was not known for its native detective fiction. The Benny Cooperman novels by Howard Engel — along with the work of Eric Wright and Ted Wood — represent the beginnings of a vital new school of crime writing in Canada.

   The Suicide Murders is the first of a series of mysteries starring Benny Cooperman, private eye. Benny is a nice Jewish guy who makes his extremely modest living as a detective in his hometown of Grantham, Ontario. He still goes home to have dinner with his elderly parents at least once a week. He possesses intelligence enough. and the requisite amount of determination. Still, life or a case too often forces him lo play the schlemiel.

   The novel opens with the classic scene of a beautiful woman entering his office and enlisting his aid. Myrna Yates thinks her successful husband may be cheating on her. She hires Benny lo trail him. This simple assignment becomes much more complicated when the seemingly faithful Mr. Yates dies of a gunshot wound to the head soon after buying himself an expensive new bike. The police say suicide. Benny disagrees. His investigation continues. as do the murders, until he brings the case to its sad, satisfying conclusion.

   Benny’s mean streets may be in Ontario and not L.A., but his adventures are still reminiscent of the classic American private eye. He is no tough guy, but he is strong as well as compassionate. The supporting cast of characters, including the murderer, arc also nicely realized.

   Benny Cooperman returns in The Ransom Game (1984), Murder on Location (1985), and Murder Sees the Light (1985).

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.