A City Called July
Gerald J. Stortz is an assistant professor of history at St. Jerome’s
College, University of Waterloo.
Howard Engel is a writer / producer who lives in Toronto and was raised in St. Catharines, Ontario. He was the 1984 winner of the Arthur Ellis award. A City Called July is the latest in a series of novels featuring Grantham (a not very thinly disguised St. Kitts) private detective Benny Cooperman. In this case, Cooperman, who is Jewish, is hired by the local congregation to investigate the disappearance of one of their members with funds they had raised. As with the other Cooperman stories, this is a masterpiece. Engel is a master storyteller concocting plots which are devious but believable. In this work, the reader is led down the garden path at least twice before the killer is revealed. For Canadians familiar with the Niagara region, the geographic detail is interesting and it is refreshing to have a detective novel set in a locale other than New York or Los Angeles. It is, however, the richness of the writing style which is most pleasing. For example, after a mob has attacked the missing man’s house and Cooperman has arrived with the police to disperse them, then comfort the wife and brother:
By now I was feeling like the fifth shoe under a bridal bed. If I’d been looking at this scene through a transom or a keyhole I couldn’t have felt more like a voyeur. The room itself seemed to be crawling away from the patched window. In a way it didn’t seem like the room I’d been in the day before. Somehow a pile of broken glass glinting on the broadloom and masking tape on the painted woodwork completed the work the mob tried to do. “Safe as houses,” the Welsh say. This house seemed as safe as a circus tent in a hurricane.
What many will also find pleasing is that this is the work of a fine craftsman who has no need to resort to the vulgarity so often associated with this genre. There is neither explicit sex nor coarse language here. It is a work even the most concerned parent could give to a teenager. As I write this, I understand another Benny Cooperman novel is ready for publication. As far as this reviewer is concerned it can be none too soon.