The Cooperman Variations

Reviewed: May 11, 2006
By: Howard Engel
Publisher: Penguin Books
279 pages, $18.99

Itís been awhile since Iíve treated myself to a visit to Benny Coopermanís world. Wouldnít you know that when I did, it would be the case where Benny decides to leave Grantham for a bit and take a case in Toronto. I donít mind Toronto that much. We visit our daughter there and get along fine, but I donít like it any more than Benny does, and heís uneasy away from his home ground. Granthamís a smaller pond and the sharks arenít quite so toothy.

Actually, itís a toothy shark that lures Benny off to the city in the first place. Anna Abraham, the love of his life, was off in Europe with some graduate students, and Benny was stagnating in his office when Stella knocked on his door.

Stella Seco was one of those girls that all the boys dreamed about in high school. But sheís not Stella anymore. Her last name is Moss, courtesy of a husband she snagged when she was 18, and her first name is Vanessa, at the suggestion of one of her ďmentorsĒ in the broadcast business.

Vanessa is big in television now, head of entertainment at the National Television Corporation, and sheís in the sights of someone who wants her dead. Indeed they thought they had killed her, since the lady who died at her townhouse was wearing her dressing gown when the shotgun went off in her face.

Benny doesnít usually do body guard duty, but this body was just too needy to be turned down (I can hardly believe I wrote that), so Benny packed his valise and headed off to Hogtown, to see what what swine might be after his old schoolmate.

Now Howard Engel knows a lot about the media business, having turned out a lot of material for the CBC in his day. NTC is not CBC, CTV or Global, but some strange amalgam of the quirks of all three, such that some almost recognizable characters wander through these pages, spreading bon mots about the medium in general and lending to the general air of total chaos that often surrounds Benny when he is probing at a problem.

There are relationship problems. How do you work for the predatory woman that you once had a teenage crush on? How do you deal with the office politics of a narcissistic corporation?

Bennyís hunt for the truth leads him out of the city and to a reinterpretation of an earlier death, which took place up in cottage county and involved a musician who seems to be a blend of Glen Gould and YoYo Mah. Those parts of the book actually feel more like a normal Cooperman novel, but the rest was good. Lots of banter with the local cops, witty conversations with show biz folk, a decent mystery and, yes, a scene which Benny will have to account to Anna for someday.

Thereís a real personís name in here somewhere. Engel auctioned off that treat as part of a fund raiser for a worthy cause. I have no idea who it is, but Iíll bet they got a kick out of it.