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Howard Engel, author of the Benny Cooperman detective series, dead at 88

Howard Engel was a celebrated Canadian mystery writer and co-founder of the Crime Writers of Canada.

Howard Engel earned many lifetime achievement accolades over his career

Howard Engel was an award-winning Canadian crime writer and author of the Benny Cooperman detective series. (Submitted by Writers' Trust of Canada)

Howard Engel, author of the Benny Cooperman detective novels and co-founder of the Crime Writers of Canada, has died. He was 88.

His daughter Charlotte Engel, a production executive at CBC Docs, confirmed he died last night. His agent Beverley Slopen said he died of pneumonia while recovering from a stroke.

Engel was raised in St. Catharines, Ont., and was the son of a clothing store owner. He gave both these characteristics to Benny Cooperman, the protagonist of his popular mystery series. The series, which included more than 10 titles, began in 1980.

The first Benny Cooperman novel, The Suicide Murders, introduced readers to an eccentric small town investigator from the fictional town of Grantham, Ont. — inspired by St. Catharines — who confronted murder cases with a sardonic, unassuming ease.

Canadian mystery writer Howard Engel is interviewed on Midday about his ninth Benny Cooperman novel 6:30

"The great Canadian detective did not exist until Howard Engel invented Benny Cooperman," Andrew Ryan wrote in the Globe and Mail in 2008.

Following The Suicide Murders, Engel continued to write of Benny Cooperman's adventures through the decades, including in The Ransom Game, A City Called July and East of Suez.

In July 2001, Engel suffered a stroke, losing his ability to read, in a condition known as Alexia sine agraphia. But he could still write.

Over the following years, he learned how to read again and published the novel Memory Book, which begins as Benny Cooperman recovers in a hospital with the same condition. 

Mystery writer Howard Engel recounts the story of the sudden loss of his ability to read 5:19

Engel's memoir The Man Who Forgot How to Read also documents his experience with the condition.

His other books include the non-fiction book Lord High Executioner and the novel Mr. Doyle and Dr. Bell and Murder in Space co-written with his wife Janet Hamilton.

Engel was previously married to celebrated Canadian writer Marian Engel, author of BearTheir marriage ended in 1978.

Prior to publishing books, Engel was a writer and reporter for CBC. He also worked as an executive producer for Sunday Supplement, The Arts in Review and Anthology.

He was a founding member of the Crime Writers of Canada, an organization created in 1986 to support and bolster the Canadian crime writing community.

Engel earned many lifetime achievement accolades over his career, including the 2004 Matt Cohen Award, an award from the Writers' Trust of Canada that recognizes the entire career of a Canadian writer.

He was also awarded the Crime Writers of Canada Grand Master Award in 2014, which honours a crime writer who has achieved significant recognition in Canada and around the world throughout their career.

Engel was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2007.