by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of the first book in a new series, the Asperger Syndrome Mystery series, by E.J. Copperman aka Jeff Cohen, along with an interesting interview with Jeff. Also, at the end of this post are details on how to enter to win a copy of The Question of the Missing Head, and a link to purchase the book where a portion goes to help support KRL.
The Question of the Missing Head: An Asperger’s Mystery By E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen
Review by Cynthia Chow
After gentle nudging from his mother, Samuel Hoenig establishes Questions Answered, an agency designed to answer questions—not solve problems—and nudge him out of his mother’s attic apartment. Samuel has the trait (he doesn’t consider it an affliction) of Asperger’s Syndrome. The very aspects that make socializing difficult allow him to be an observant and intellectually effective detective. After finding a lost boa constrictor, Samuel gets a referral to locate someone who has literally lost a head.
It seems Marshall Ackerman, the chief administrator of Garden State Cryonics Institute, has misplaced the head of Rita Masters-Powell, who was cryogenically frozen until her death could be scientifically cured. While a scandal could cause the loss of both an endowment and future clients, the bigger mystery is who murdered Rebecca Springer. While Ackerman waits for a ransom demand, the very-much-in-over-his-head Detective Lapides requests Samuel’s skills be put to use before Rita’s head thaws past its expiration date.
Luckily for Samuel, the recently laid-off Home News-Tribune photographer Janet Washburn stopped by with a question and becomes an inadvertent but willing assistant as she translates and helps him investigate. Experienced as a substitute teacher, Janet proves to be uniquely qualified to enlighten Samuel on the emotional cues that he misses through his very literal perception of the world.
While there will be inevitable comparisons to the Monk television show and mystery book series (Monk, as Samuel points out, has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, not Asperger’s) as well as any Sherlock Holmes incarnation, this is a unique narrative from the viewpoint of the gifted detective, not from his exasperated coworkers. This entertaining novel shines a light on how Samuel has adapted and through training, has learned to make allowances for the mundane normals. Most enlightening is the disclosure that Samuel is more concerned with being judged for his reactions to interruptions of his habits and unexpected new experiences than he is of the events themselves.
The author of several mystery series as well as a nonfiction book on parenting Asperger’s children, Jeff Cohen reveals the fascinating aspects of Asperger’s Syndrome while retaining all of the humor of his Haunted Guesthouse, Aaron Tucker, and Comedy Tonight mysteries. Samuel is a sympathetic and very likable character because of, not despite, his traits. It is a delight to observe him connect with those who are much slower than he. It is a treat to be educated while entertained. Readers are sure to experience both in this delightful and funny new series.
Interview with Jeff Cohen:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Jeff: About an hour and a half. You mean today, right?
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? A little about it?
Jeff:For Whom the Minivan Rolls came out in 2002, the first in what turned out to be the three-book (and one novella) Aaron Tucker series. If I’d known anyone was going to read it, I’d have made Aaron less like me.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Jeff:I’ve written some non-fiction on raising a child (now 25) with Asperger’s Syndrome, and I’ve written about six gajillion unproduced screenplays in many different genres, mostly comedy.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Jeff:The setting, as ever, is New Jersey, a much-maligned and misunderstood state where I happen to live. This time I didn’t make up a town but let Samuel work in Piscataway, at an address I made sure was an empty lot so I could put what I wanted there. Samuel Hoenig is the borderline genius with Asperger’s who runs Questions Answered, a business that does just that. He’s not at all like my son, but I wanted to write from the perspective of someone with AS.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Jeff:Mostly I write at night because I have other stuff I need to do during the day, but I can write anytime.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Jeff:It honestly doesn’t matter. Not when I’m sleeping. When I’m eating it tends to get messy. Any other time will do.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Jeff:I really shouldn’t say this: No. After 20 years of beating my head against the wall trying to sell screenplays with various degrees of no success, I sold my first book in five days. It got harder after that, if it makes you feel better.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Jeff:To keep doing it and getting paid. Writing something outside a series, maybe. The only times I’ve tried that, they haven’t sold, so maybe someone’s trying to tell me something.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Jeff:As little as possible. Anyone looking for facts in my books is operating under a sad misconception. Although for The Question of the Missing Head, I did need to find out a little about cryogenics.
KRL: What do you read?
Jeff:The New York Times, every day. Mostly non-fiction books about silly topics and the occasional mystery written by a friend. I have friends who write very good books, like Chris Grabenstein and Julia Spencer-Fleming.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Jeff:How much space have you got? I’m a comedy geek. The Marx Brothers. Mel Brooks. Buster Keaton. Peter Sellers. Did I mention the Marx Brothers? TV: I can’t miss The Daily Show and am now hooked on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. On rare non-comedy nights, Alfred Hitchcock, Star Trek (only the original cast counts), and a few current things, although I’m not completely nuts about anything right at the moment.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Jeff:Find another job. I’m serious. If you can be talked out of this business, don’t do it. Find a steadier way to make a living that doesn’t involve being rejected on a regular basis and breaking out into a sweat when the bills come due.
KRL: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?
Jeff:I don’t care if people read my books etched into a rock, as long as they read my books. I like a nice paper book, but I get the appeal of e-books too. Different strokes for different folks. Do what you like.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Jeff:I’d like to add a new Ferrari, but what’s the point of torturing myself?
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Jeff:That I used to play center for the Knicks. It would surprise me to know that as well. Shocked me, really. I don’t know what would surprise people. I don’t think that many people know about me, so without preconceptions it’s hard to surprise someone.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
KRL: Here are a few more questions specific to this book. You are the author of some nonfiction books on Asperger’s Syndrome, and several of your novels include characters with this form of autism. How did you finally decide to make your lead detective someone with Asperger’s Syndrome?
Jeff: I’d been toying for a long time with the idea of writing a character that has AS, but I didn’t want to be another in a series of writers who observed and commented. I wanted Samuel to tell his own story. So he narrates The Question of the Missing Head, and that means we get a look into how his mind works.
KRL: How do you see your detective, Samuel Hoenig changing now that he has an assistant who makes up for his weaknesses? Would his being better equipped to deal with the “real” world make him a less effective detective?
Jeff: I think “changing” might be optimistic for Samuel. He’s going to be who he is and having Janet (whom Samuel calls an “associate,” not an “assistant”) with him will simply provide him with a little interference against the rest of the world. He’s not going to stop having Asperger’s because she’s there.
KRL: You write several mystery series, but who is the character who you relate to the most? What character is most like you?
Jeff:Well, Aaron Tucker is closest to my circumstances. He works at home with his wife and two children, much like me. He’s not the tallest guy on the planet (or on the block, to be honest), like me. But in terms of temperament, none of them is that close. Elliot Freed is a joke machine; he lives for the pure religion of Comedy. Alison Kerby in the Haunted Guesthouse series is a woman who lives with ghosts, so that’s a lot of imagination on my part. Samuel has Asperger’s, and I don’t, so his thought process will be different from mine.
KRL: Who have been your literary influences? Who inspired you to write?
Jeff:I’m inspired to write because I honestly don’t know how to do anything else. If I couldn’t make my living with words, I’d be living in a refrigerator carton. My literary influences, before I started writing, were mostly screenwriters because that’s how I started out: Larry Gelbart, who became a friend. Ernest Lehman. Mel Brooks. Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. Aaron Sorkin.
KRL: “Quirky” detectives have become very popular on television and in movies recently (Sherlock, Elementary, Psyche, Monk, etc.). Do you have a favorite? And what do you attribute to this popularity?
Jeff:I don’t watch a lot of them because I don’t want to intersect with other people’s visions and inadvertently pick something up. I’m a fan of Sherlock Holmes and will look in on those shows once in a while. I liked Monk the first few years. As for why they’re popular? Everybody’s a little bit different. So we like to see those who have what some might consider a disadvantage turn it into an advantage. It’s been working in stories for centuries; no need to stop now.
KRL: Authors used to do many book tours to promote their books, and you have a history of driving to numerous book signings yourself. With book stores closing and the rise of social media, is that still necessary? How do you continue to promote your books in this competitive field?
Jeff:I’m no judge of what’s necessary for promotion. But I do like to go to bookstores, and when the next Guesthouse book Inspector Specter is published in a few weeks (!) on December 2, I will hit the road a bit. If I haven’t been to your town before… I probably won’t be there again, but there’s always a chance!
Social media is a necessity now, I think, and you can find me on the main ones (I’m old and don’t know a lot of them). Doing interviews like this are the most fun, but not everyone is interested enough in me to ask. So thanks!
Jeff and KRL ask that you consider donating to ASPEN (asperger Autism SPectrum Education Network): ASPEN – Education, Support, Advocacy www.aspennj.org.
To enter to win a copy of The Question of the Missing Head, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Missing,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 22, 2014. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
Click on this link to purchase this book & a portion goes to help support KRL!