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Benny awakens in a Toronto hospital room with no idea how he got there. He's suffering from alexia sine agraphia, courtesy of a vicious blow to the head. Benny is a mild mannered private investigator, but he's shrewd and tenacious and when he discovers that he was left for dead in a dumpster beside a murdered woman, Benny sets out to recover his memory and reconstruct who was after him and why. Fans of Benny Cooperman will be pleased to see him return in this novel since his creator Howard Engel had a stroke in 2001 and can still write, but he cannot read. Engel is on the mend and recently won the Matt Cohen award for lifetime achievement.

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Dr. Wendy Johnston
Neurologist
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Janice MacDonald
Crime Writer
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Memory Book is dislocated by virtue of being post-injury and by being set in Toronto instead of Grandtham, so Benny's a double fish out of water. I do miss some of the fun from the other books in the series, with all the regulars commenting and having their own opinion on what Benny should be doing.

This book was written by someone who has overcome a neurologic impairment. There's no charity here in reading it - it's a great read. But I think also people who've had any sort of neurologic impairment will read and relate to it. Some of the things that gave me a hoot were the hospital scenes. I'm a doctor, and Engel's commentary on doctors and nurses was very apt and entirely justified.

Benny - and Engel's - syndrome is unusual, and is more usually seen with a stroke than with a head injury. The left side of the brain is where for the majority of the population speech and language are centred. So what has to happen is that the eyes take in information, and then heave it over to the right hemisphere of the brain to be understood. It's that connection that's been cut off, here.

As far as the characters go, I like Benny. I also think that Rhymeswith comes across quite well. The RNs are really hard pressed in acute care. They're supervising quite a large staff, and they do try to spend the time imparting neurologic knowledge that their particular skill set speaks to. I think this is a really neat book and I enjoyed it. Engel's always been a generous writer, he has an affection for his own characters. It's not the best, most intriguing mystery, but he's so kind. I like that.

Other reviews by Dr. Wendy Johnston:
Blackfly Season

 

Howard Engel had a stroke and lost the ability to read what it is he writes, which is unbelievable. I will never complain about another rewrite in my life. I don't know how he did it - people should just buy this book and stand in awe of it. Engel is a wonderful, delightful writer. He gave us a series which truthfully opened up Canadian crime fiction, so I'm loyal to him because I love him.

This is a very vulnerable book. Engel is incredibly generous to us - he offers us an insight into all of the weaknesses of his problem and makes them strengths. He creates the vulnerability you feel in a hospital, he makes you question whether or not Benny is seeing the same person in the first three or four meetings, or even if the person (who turns out to be the nurse Rhymeswith) is coming into the hospital to try and finish Benny off. It's a brilliant manipulation of putting us into that very vulnerable place.

I gave this book 3 out of 5 because I found the mystery aspect of it very weak, but the book itself is fascinating, and the exploration of the mind of somebody who is going to push against all odds and is obviously doing so.

Other reviews by Janice MacDonald:
Darkly Dreaming Dexter
The Torment of Others
The Maltese Falcon