Howard Engel, Honored as a True Master of the Detective Novel + an Epitaph to Oliver Sacks

August 30, 2015 update: Sad word this morning brings news of the death of Oliver Sacks at age 82. It was an honor and a privilege in 2006 to publish an essay by him as the Afterword to Howard Engel’s ingenious mystery novel Memory Book, a piece that was also published in The New Yorker. The novelist consulted with Dr. Sacks after he’d suffered a stroke that left him with alexia sine agraphia, aka word-blindness, a condition that leaves a patient unable to read, though able to still write. Sacks continued writing about Engel’s condittion in subsequent years, with a 2010 New Yorker piece and then in his 2010 book The Mind’s Eye. (If as a tribute to Sacks The New Yorker opens its online archive outside their paywall I will link to the articles here.) The blog post below, written in 2013 as a tribute to Engel now stands also as a testament to the generosity and curiosity of Dr. Oliver Sacks, RIP.
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EngelI’m very happy to see that Canadian mystery author Howard Engel—author of Memory Book, a Benny Cooperman Detective novel with an Afterword by Oliver Sacks, which I published in the US in 2006—will receive this year’s Grand Master award from the Crime Writers of Canada. Their announcement reads,

The Crime Writers of Canada has. . .added an eighth prize to their list of awards this year. The CWC Grand Master Award for Crime Writing in Canada will go to a Canadian crime writer with a substantial body of work that has garnered national and international recognition. This year the award will go to Howard Engel, author of the award-winning Benny Cooperman detective series.

Engel is a gem. Here are some of the words his fellow writers have used to describe him:

“Benny Cooperman is a lot of fun to hang out [with]. I’m delighted to see him getting into trouble again.”—Donald E. Westlake

“Mr Engel is a born writer, a natural stylist…This is a writer who can bring a character to life in a few lines.”—Ruth Rendell

“Engel can turn a phrase as neatly as Chandler…Benny Cooperman novels [are] first-class entertainment, stylishly written, the work of an original, distinctive, and distinctively Canadian talent.”—Julian Symons

The prolific Sacks, neurologist and author, contributed an essay to Engel’s book because he was fascinated by a condition the author had endured. Engel wrote Memory Book after suffering a rare kind of stroke that left him with alexia sine agraphia, aka word-blindness. He was no longer able to read, but somehow still capable of writing. Painstakingly and ingeniously, Engel placed his protagonist, private eye Cooperman, in a similarly perplexing condition. According to a post by blogger Allyson Latta, Sacks still consults with Engel from time to time on the mysteries of his condition. Showing that the writing of Memory Book was no fluke, in 2008 Engel published his twelfth book in the Cooperman series, East of Suez, and in July 2014 he will publish City of Fallen Angels, featuring a new series character, Mike Ward. I’m very glad this recognition is being given to Howard Engel, and I’m also very happy for his agent, Beverley Slopen.Memory BookMemory Book back coverHoward Engel titles

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