The Question of the Dead Mistress by E. J. Copperman, Jeff Cohen: Samuel Answers a Question a G-g-g-g-host

The Question of the Dead MistressThe Question of the Dead Mistress

by E. J. Copperman, Jeff Cohen
Series: Asperger’s Mysteries, #5

eARC, 288 pg.
Midnight Ink, 2018

Read: June 26 – 27, 2018

“Is my husband having an affair with a dead woman?”

That doesn’t seem to be the kind of question that Samuel and Ms. Washburn would tackle as Questions Answered. They typically take on things that require esoteric research, problem solving, and occasionally something that takes some investigation that looks a lot like the kind of thing a P.I. would do. Paranormal investigation is not in their wheelhouse. Samuel is almost reflexively dismissive of the idea — but his associate, Ms. Washburn makes him listen to the prospective client’s story. And then he tries to reflexively dismiss the question, but she won’t let him. While Samuel is convinced there’s nothing supernatural afoot — in fact, the notion is impossible — Ms. Washburn had an experience she can’t explain as a teenager, and refuses to rule it out.

So Samuel let’s her try to come up with an answer to the question and goes back to whatever he was doing before. Before she can get very far into her research, the husband is murdered. Suddenly, the question doesn’t matter as much as the replacement question, “Who killed my husband?” Given Ms. Washburn’s involvement, Samuel gets interested in things again — and the two get involved in a very twisty and complicated mystery. As far as twisty-turny-keep you guessing-mysteries go, this is the best that the duo has encountered and will easily satisfy the most puzzle-obsessed of readers.

What makes this even better — is that given the supernatural/supernatural-adjacent nature of the instigating question, the two are approaching things in very different ways and decide to operate largely separately. Samuel interviews people with assistance of other to drive him places or via the Internet, while Ms. Washburn goes on her own, trying to use Samuel’s methods. This change in modus operandi is refreshing for the characters and the readers, and will lead both Samuel and Ms. Washburn to re-evaluate the way they do business in the future.

The danger level in this one is great — and there are direct threats made against Ms. Washburn and Samuel’s mother and father. Which just makes Samuel more determined to come up with definitive answers quickly. The possible supernatural elements stay with the story throughout and it’s only near the end that all the characters come to the same conclusions about it. This novel features a great puzzle and the solution is very satisfactory — and one I didn’t see coming (but in retrospect makes complete sense).

So much for the mystery — there’s also plenty going on in Samuel’s personal life. On the whole I thought they dealt with it well, but…

I appreciated Samuel pointing out that Asperger’s is no longer a diagnosis, but he still claims it s a shorthand way to describe the way he acts/thinks to others. Which is just a great — and realistic — way to handle the change in status for the label. Let me follow that observation with this one — what frustrated me about this one — and I will admit I was very frustrated at times — is how little Samuel’s mother seemed to understand him. Ms. Washburn, too, but she hasn’t known Samuel as long — or as well as his mother. Dealing with the father who abandoned his family decades ago suddenly reappearing and trying to merge back into his life, would be difficult, complicated and messy. For someone like Samuel? Well, I’m guessing it’d be just as difficult and complicated — but he’d tell you exactly what’s going on with him. And Samuel does so — repeatedly. His father doesn’t believe him; Ms. Washburn seems to try to believe him, but doesn’t; neither does his mother. His mother has been with him every day of his life, devoting more of her life and energy to her son than most parents do — how does she not know him well enough to not double-guess his emotions? If Samuel says he feels “X,” then that’s probably exactly what he feels — unless you force him to look at things another way. Over and over again, his mother shows less awareness of Samuel’s reactions to things than almost anyone. It just didn’t ring true. Samuel’s Asperger’s isn’t new to her (or Samuel) — she shouldn’t act like this.

I should add — the authors know a whole lot more about all of this than I do, and their depictions of this are probably spot-on, I guess they just didn’t convince me about those depictions like they usually do. Also, in the overall-scheme of things, this was a relatively minor quibble and didn’t detract a lot from the pleasure I had in the book — it just took a lot of space to describe.

The trick to Samuel is to give him a little personal growth, a little greater awareness, a little understanding of himself and the emotional needs of others. Yet, only a little bit. I do think this is depicted faster (possibly unrealistically so) in the books — because outside of Nero Wolfe, Sherlock Holmes, or other Golden Age/Golden Age-like characters who don’t grow and evolve by design, we expect some sort of noticeable personal growth in our series characters (particularly the central characters) from book to book. Samuel shouldn’t give us much in that way — his evolution/growth/whatever you want to call it is going to happen on a glacial pace. And over the last three books (I really need to double back and read the first two in the series), he’s taken significant steps forward — so much so it’s like Ms. Washburn has slipped into forgetting that he’s not neurotypical a few times here. That makes sense, because their relationship (in every sense) is pretty new. Thankfully, she catches herself and deliberately attempts to accept that — and generally does – and recognizes when he’s trying. Because we readers get a direct pipeline to Samuel’s thoughts, we might have an easier time with it than she does, but she does a decent job (and his mother usually does, too). It’s a heckuva trick to pull off narratively, and Copperman/Cohen nails it, time and time again.

Another clever mystery, well-told with one of Crime Fiction’s most original and convincingly written characters (not a detective, just someone who can easily be mistaken for one) — this series is a consistently pleasant and rewarding read. The Question of the Dead Mistress is a great jumping-on point, and a welcome-return read for those who’ve spent time with the crew from Questions Answered before.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Midnight Ink via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. My opinions are my own, however.


3.5 Stars


The Question of the Absentee Father by E. J. Copperman, Jeff Cohen

The Question of the Absentee FatherThe Question of the Absentee Father

by E.J. Copperman, Jeff Cohen
Series: Asperger’s Mysteries, #4

eARC, 288 pg.
Midnight Ink, 2017

Read: May 19 – 22, 2017

So after reading #3 in this series, The Question of the Felonious Friend last year, I was going to read the first two before the next one came out but you know what they say about the The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men, right? Gang aft agley . . . So, here it is, a few months later and the next book is out. Picking up soon after the last ended — this time the case is a bit more personal. Not case, of course, Samuel isn’t a detective, he answers questions. To be accurate (as Samuel would want), this time the question is a bit more personal. Not that Samuel cares about it, but people in his life do.

(actually, I technically can still read the first two before the book comes out — I’ve got a few months, now that I think about it)

I should back up a bit, for those who didn’t read what I thought of book 3 (I’ll get over the slight) — Samuel Hoenig isn’t your typical mystery protagonist. He runs a business called Questions Answered — basically, he researches things for you. A human Boolean Search. From the looks of it, this occasionally results in him playing amateur detective. As is indicated by the name of the series, Samuel finds himself on one end of the Autism Spectrum, which helps him focus on his questions, but leads to challenges on the interpersonal level.

Which is where is mother and his associate, Ms. Washburn, come in to play — Ms. Washburn helps him through the challenges presented by the world around him (as well as helping research his answers). His mother is . . . well, his mother — she still cooks for him, , still cares for him, pushes him to do new things, while providing a safe environment at home. He has a friend, Mike (no known last name), a taxi driver with some military experience that he relies on when things get sticky. And things get pretty sticky this time around.

Samuel’s father left home when Samuel was a kid, he always assumed it was because he was such a difficult child. He never let this define him — or affect him at all (as far as he’s aware). But now, his mother receives a letter from him, and it distresses her. So she asks Samuel the question that she’s probably been wanting to ask for a while, “Where is your father living now?” The question is not emotionally wrought for Samuel, but he can tell it is for his mother (and Ms. Washburn keeps trying to make it into something that matters to Samuel).

What Samuel does get emotional about is what this question makes him do — leave home. Get on an airplane, travel to California, sleep on a strangers bed, ride in a car that he is unfamiliar with, eat at restaurants he’s never heard of, deal with LA traffic — and much more. In the midst of all that, Samuel and Ms. Washburn begin to suspect that his father is mixed up in something nefarious, and potentially dangerous.

The story is really strong, and more complex than I’d assumed it would be. In the last book, Samuel was dealing with other people on the Spectrum or their families. This time, there’s none of that — just strangers who are unused to interacting with people like him and who have no patience. Which serves as a good challenge for Samuel to overcome. There is real character growth evident in this book — it’s not the same kind of growth you expect to see in most books — because Samuel isn’t like most protagonists. But it is there — and really, he makes some pretty big strides here. It’s nice to see him not be treated as static, but someone who can make choices, can evolve.

Once again, Samuel isn’t treated as a bag of symptoms or tics, he isn’t made a paragon of anything. He’s an individual who has to do some things the rest of the populace don’t consider. There are some lighter moments in the book, but none of them are at Samuel’s expense, just human foibles.

The Question of the Absentee Father is another strong outing for Samuel and his team — as well as for E.J. Copperman. For those who like a mystery on on the cozy side, with some strong characters, this is the one for you.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Midnight Ink via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.


3.5 Stars

The Question of the Felonious Friend by E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen

The Question of the Felonious FriendThe Question of the Felonious Friend

by E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen
Series: Asperger’s Mysteries, #3

eARC, 288 pg.
Midnight Ink, 2016

Read: June 30 – July 1, 2016

So, I don’t like coming into a series after book 1 — I’ve done it, and will do it again, but I don’t like it. And I probably wouldn’t have requested this book if I’d realized it. But I did, and I’m glad I did.

Samuel Hoenig isn’t your typical mystery protagonist. He runs a business called Questions Answered — basically, he researches things for you. A human Boolean Search. From the looks of it, this occasionally results in him playing amateur detective. Like this time, when one of the people involved in the question he’s answering is murdered.

The mystery is decent. Pretty easy to figure out; my first guess was right, but I talked myself out of it — I still like my 2nd guess, but it wouldn’t have worked well. Copperman paced the story like a pro, fed you the information in just the right way, and gave enough clues for the reader to figure things out. Very well done, there.

But, like with many mystery novels, your enjoyment of this book doesn’t come form the puzzle but from the characters. It’s almost impossible not to like Samuel from the get-go, but it was the last sentence of Chapter 2 that probably sealed the deal as far as character goes. I had no idea about the story at that point, but character-wise it was a done deal.

It’s hard to describe Samuel briefly without resorting to stereotypes. He’s really smart, he has trouble interacting with most people (Mike seems to be the only exception — but I could be wrong about that) — his mother and associate included. His mother successfully pushed him out of his room to set up his office and business — to interact with the world, make some money, and have the kind of life that he wouldn’t were it not for her efforts. He’s stubborn, determined, and once he takes on a question (and yes, like Trebek, he insists you phrase it in the form of a question), he finds the answer. He’s not a detective by any stretch, just someone who answers questions. You really need to read him to start to get him.

Ms. Washburn is the Natalie Teeger to Samuel’s Monk, Paige Dineen to his Scoropion — her duties seem to include routine clerical duties, driving, and helping Simon understand/interact with neurotypicals (and vice versa). She has some personal issues going on, as established in earlier novels — and I’m not sure what she’d be like in books where that’s less of a thing. I liked her, but didn’t get a great read on her.

Samuel’s mother was nice, a good complement to Washburn. I also could’ve used a bit more of Mike, Samuel’s friend (but what we were given was just the emotional grounding he needed). The client, his family and friends could’ve been a bit more fleshed out — but not much. And they served the purpose they needed to. Reading over this paragraph, I guess my overriding point here is, more of everything/one would be better.

Yeah, yeah, I’m as tired as the next guy of hearing things like “The city is practically another character,” or “the music is practically another . . . “, etc. But Autism Spectrum Disorder is one of the main characters in this book (I assume the series as a whole) — I mean, the series is called Asperger’s Mysteries. Samuel’s client (and some other characters) are also on Spectrum — it’s literally on every page, it’s the subtext (if not subject) of every conversation, and, obviously, it colors everything Samuel says/does. It makes everything amusing/quirky — but it’s never played for laughs or just to be odd. For the record, this was his first client on the Spectrum, so every book isn’t going to be so heavy on that.

As a little sample of the way his mind works, here’s Samuel explaining his thinking behind the way that Questions Answered answers their phone:

Mother suggested that businesses often answer the phone with the name of the business followed by the phrase, “May I help you?” (Actually, most employees of businesses I have called ask, “Can I help you?”, which is an unanswerable question. If I am calling your business for the first time I have no way to measure your competence, and therefore cannot determine if you are capable of performing the task I need completed.) I merely say the name of the service and let the client assume we are here to help.

It’s classified as a cozy (and deservedly so), and is written with a light tone (which is a neat trick given Samuel’s temperament). The closest things I can compare this to is The Rosie Project, and Rick Yancey’s Highly Effective Detective series. And like both of those, I appreciated the humor and the humanity of the characters, and this book is full of both. Good characters, an amusing (yet not exploitatively so) take on them, and a decent mystery — this will not be the last I read of these books.

Disclaimer: In exchange for my honest thoughts, I received this book via NetGalley and Midnight Ink. Thanks very much!


3.5 Stars