The Suicide Murders, by Howard Engel****

thesuicidemurdersThe cops said Chester killed himself. The gun was there, and he had powder burns on his head, powder on his hand. Everything tested out right. But he’d ordered himself a brand new bicycle just two hours earlier. Does a suicide do that? And then there was the very lovely wife that had been to see Cooperman, our detective protagonist, just before the unfortunate event, concerned that her man had perhaps been unfaithful. She’s caught him lying to her, and that makes a lady suspicious.

These things leave a guy like Cooperman with questions. True, he’s not a cop: “Me? I’m just a peeper. Divorce is my meat and potatoes.” But when something stinks, it’s in Cooperman’s nature to go find the source of the smell and air it out. And when others die after Chester, it makes Cooperman, who’s nobody’s fool, ask even more questions.

I received the DRC for this vintage novel, now available digitally, from Net Galley and Open Road Integrated Media. It became available for sale August 24, so you can get it now.

Engel is an experienced writer, and as he plays the thread out, with murder upon murder integrated deftly into the everyday life of Benny Cooperman, he strikes an excellent balance, building suspense and driving the plot forward with the occasional humorous reflection to keep things from becoming too ugly to be fun for the reader. And his character descriptions are particularly memorable, as with this local politician:

“He was a big man by anybody’s scale. His face looked like a roast beef dinner with all the trimmings, with a huge portion of nose in the middle. “

There were a couple of moments when the predictable occurred, but it wasn’t so dead obvious—excuse the pun—as to be an eye-roller. Rather, I experienced the satisfaction of having seen it coming and been right. And to me, as long as there isn’t too much of it, and there wasn’t, that is a sign that the writer has been fair to his audience. There are no sudden introductions of new characters during the last ten percent of the novel that change the solution in a way impossible to predict, and a lot of us like working the puzzle as we read. There are a couple of sexist references—“the kind of girl”, “bimbo”—that were commonly used in 1980 when this was first published that I didn’t care for, but they were infrequent enough that I was able to make a note to myself, and then continue to read and enjoy the story. In the end, the wry humor and up-tempo plot line makes this one a winner.

Although there are vague sexual references and infidelity is part of the plot, there is no graphic sex that should prevent a parent of a precocious adolescent mystery maven from handing the book down once they have finished it themselves. It’s hard to call any story that contains multiple murders a cozy mystery, but this one is in or near that ballpark.

Altogether a satisfying read.

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