Feature

Author of the week: Howard Engel

The dean of Canadian mystery writers has written a memoir, <em>The Man Who</em> <em>Forgot How to Read,</em> in which he tells about the stroke that left him with memory deficits and an inability to read.

The dean of Canadian mystery writers can’t read very well, said Andrew Ryan in the Toronto Globe and Mail. Seven years ago, while working on his latest Benny Cooperman mystery, 70-year-old Howard Engel picked up his morning newspaper and was astonished to find it filled with inscrutable hieroglyphs. Engel had suffered a mild stroke while sleeping, afflicting him with a rare neurological condition that deprived him of the ability to comprehend the language he had long written in. “I felt like a plumber told to stay clear of drains and pipes,” Engel writes in his slim new memoir, The Man Who Forgot How to Read. Not only was reading necessary for his career, it had been since childhood one of his greatest passions.

Engel never gave in to his disability, said Brian Bethune in Maclean’s. Remarkably, he wrote and dictated a new Cooperman novel while remastering the alphabet. The Benny Cooperman of Engel’s last two novels, though, isn’t the same sleuth readers first met in 1980. A blow to the head in 2005’s Memory Book has left the character wrestling with memory deficits similar to Engel’s. “Benny’s no more recovered than I am,” says Engel. “He can still give you four reasons for the Persian Wars, but he’ll have forgotten who he’s talking to.” Cooperman keeps throwing Engel new challenges, too. Currently, Engel is working on a third post-stroke mystery, sounding out each syllable as he hunts and pecks on the keyboard in his Toronto study.

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