I suppose most of you are familiar with the term "hard boiled" detective? It's usually used to describe some tough as nails Private Investigator from the mean streets of a big American city. He can take a punch and a kiss with equal aplomb, and no matter how many injuries he sustains, from either the kiss or the punch, he never seems to show any wear or tear. Over the years Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, and legions of other tough guy actors have brought people like Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlow or Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade to life on the movie screen to give us all a clear image in our heads of what one of these characters should look like.
Ever since I read my first Howard Engel detective story featuring his character Benny Cooperman from the fictional small town of Grantham, Ontario, Canada, If I imagined him looking like anyone at all it was Saul Rubinek. It turns out, I wasn't alone in that, as Rubinek played Benny both times he was brought to life on celluloid by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in television adaptations of two of Engel's books. Small, sort of round, rumpled, and obviously Jewish, neither Rubinek or by extension Benny are what one would call hard boiled.
So what is the opposite of the hard boiled detective - soft boiled? It just doesn't have the same ring to it as hard boiled, does it? Yet what do you call a guy whose mother keeps wondering why he can't be more like his older brother, the successful surgeon who lives in Toronto, and whose father was in the ready to wear business for fifty years before retiring to become the gin rummy champ at the club? Instead of whisky for breakfast at some down at the heels bar in a grimy part of the city, Benny lives for egg salad sandwiches and a glass of milk.
The other thing about Benny is that if he gets hit, either in the head or the heart, it hurts. In his newest adventure, East Of Suez, being published by Penguin Canada on May 8, 2008, he's still recovering from a serious bang on the head that's left his memory scrambled and his reading ability reduced to spelling words out letter by letter. After months of rehabilitation Benny has finally returned to his office in Grantham in order to close down his Private Investigation business. He figures that there's not much good he can do for clients if he's no longer able to remember their names or the particulars of their case the second after they tell him.