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THE COOPERMAN VARIATIONS by Howard Engel Kirkus Star


by Howard Engel

Pub Date: Aug. 30th, 2002
ISBN: 1-58567-233-5
Publisher: Overlook

Using Vera Caspary’s classic of mistaken-murder-victim-identity Laura as a springboard, Engel involves Benny Cooperman, the most feckless sleuth in Grantham, Ontario (Dead and Buried, 2001, etc.), in his wittiest case ever: the gal of his college dreams, Vanessa Moss (née Stella Seco), hires him to protect her from whoever’s shot Renata Sartori instead of her and now wants to correct that little mistake. Trudging off to Toronto, Benny poses as Vanessa’s new executive assistant at the National Television Corporation, where he runs into a slew of backstabbers pecking each other to death as they scramble for prime-time power. Renata turns out to have been the one-time love of renowned cellist Dermot Keogh, who died in a scuba accident up near Vanessa’s cabin and seems to have left behind two wills and various studio executives competing for control of his estate. Two more will die as Vanessa, for whom “the art of sitting was a symphony for the eyes,” manipulates Benny outrageously, and three different TV men, in very out-of-character moves, invite Benny respectively for a friendly beer, a tour of Dermot’s former studio, and a sail aboard a yacht (culminating in a man-overboard scenario). Still, Benny perseveres, and despite the best non-efforts of three Toronto lawmen assigned to the murders, it is Benny who ultimately sorts through the network skullduggery, withstands Vanessa’s seductive sitting, and returns to Grantham to await the return of Anna, his true love, who has been eating her way through Italy.

Deliciously wicked twitting of the TV industry and a droll homage to Laura produce a comic standout.