Engel, whose stroke five years ago left him unable to read, foists the same condition on his imperishable Ontario private eye.
Benny Cooperman wakes up in a Toronto hospital with the vivid memory of a train wreck that never happened. He wasn’t injured in an accident, nurse Carol McKay tells him, as she’s been telling him daily for two months; he was struck down and left in a Dumpster outside Simcoe College. Apart from the nonexistent train, Benny can’t remember a thing about his injury. But his amnesia is less crippling than his alexia sine agraphia, a traumatic condition that’s left him able to write but unable to read anything, even words he’s just written himself. Benny’s friend and ex-lover Anna Abraham and a host of other informants link Benny’s injury to the disappearances of Prof. Steven Mapesbury and his student Rose Moss, daughter of Benny’s ex-client Vanessa Moss, a charismatic pain in the neck (The Cooperman Variations, 2002). But it’s hard enough for a shamus to solve the same case twice without having to sweat every time he’s confronted by a newspaper or surprised, for example, by the news that he wasn’t the only one in that Dumpster.
The past 20 years have seen plenty of detectives with disabilities. Engel, one of the few writers to share the same challenges as his sleuth, has produced one of the most unusual and affecting mysteries ever.