Bringing Back Benny’s Backlist

Canada’s crown jewel in PI fiction is Benny Cooperman, the amiable Toronto investigator created by Howard Engel. But both author and protagonist alike have been through some major changes as a result of Engel’s stroke, which left him with alexia sine agraphia, an inability to read even though his ability to write was spared. 2005’s wonderful THE MEMORY BOOK grew out of Engel’s disability, as did his recent memoir THE MAN WHO FORGOT TO READ.

Now comes word, from the National Post’s Robert Fulford, that all 12 of the Cooperman novels (including a brand new one, EAST OF SUEZ) are back in print with spiffy new covers:

Far from throwing him off his game, the famous bang on the head that

scrambled Benny Cooperman’s brains has expanded his reputation. The

novels by Howard Engel starring Benny as a soft-boiled private eye are

about to become inescapable in bookstores.

Penguin has

re-launched the first 11 Cooperman books in paperback with a lively new

design and a number emblazoned on the spine of each volume, so that

obsessive Cooperman fans can shelve them in order of their creation,

from No. 1, The Suicide Murders (1980), to No. 11, Memory Book (2005).

This is an exceptional publishing event, something the French might do

while promoting someone for a shot at the Nobel. Nobody has done it

before, on this scale, for a Canadian.

Benny has established

himself as the most insular character inhabiting our national

literature. He lives in Grantham, Ontario, a double for Engel’s

hometown, St. Catharines, Ont., and in the first 11 books he usually

travels no farther than 111 kilometres down the highway to Toronto. As

for the non-Canadian world, it consists of Miami, nothing else.


brain injury has changed him. The loss of short-term memory and the

loss of his ability to read have mysteriously encouraged a tolerance

for foreign countries. In the 12th Cooperman novel, East of Suez

(Penguin), he travels to Takot, the fictional capital of fictional

Miranam, a one-time French colony. Takot, close to Thailand, is far

from the peace, order and good government of Benny’s homeland.

Great news, indeed.