Reviewed by Jeanne
The subtitle is An Asperger’s Mystery, which gives readers a heads up about Samuel Hoenig, the narrator and operator of “Questions Answered.” Samuel is counting on using his analytical mind to answer questions on any topic to earn a living, so he has set up an office to do just that. There are a few obstacles yet to overcome, however, including Samuel’s ability to be so focused on one thing that he misses others—the ringing of his telephone, for example. Fortunately, he soon acquires an associate, Janet Washburn, who is able to help him navigate social situations.
And not a moment too soon, because he is presented with a most unusual case: a preserved head has been stolen from the Garden State Cryonics Institute. Unless it is recovered promptly, all hope of a future revival will be lost, along with the Institute’s reputation. A trip to the Institute to examine the scene brings another complication when the body of one of the staff doctors is discovered, and Samuel quickly ascertains that she has been the victim of foul play.
I found this first in series book to be delightful. Samuel views his Asperger’s not as a disability but simply as a facet of his personality. He is often aware that he perceives things differently from most of those around him, but his awareness doesn’t always lead to understanding. He is an intense observer, but the subtleties of emotion often elude him. He can’t always tell if someone is being sarcastic or why a person might be upset at being questioned about the death of a family member. He’s both astute and naïve, and more than a little obsessive about certain subjects, especially Beatles’ songs and baseball. (He likes to ask people which song is their personal favorite and draws conclusions about their personalities based on the answer.)
He also needs his routine. Yet Samuel makes his habits all seem normal, because of the matter of fact way he presents his needs. Of course he needs to walk one third of a mile every few hours, even if he’s in the middle of questioning a suspect; of course he needs to be home at seven to have dinner with his mother.
There’s a great deal of humor in the book, but never at Samuel’s expense. I enjoyed seeing the world from his perspective. It’s a lighter version of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, giving readers a glimpse inside the world of a person with Asperger’s. Cohen has some personal experience with Asperger’s, so he is on familiar ground. (The author credits are a bit of an inside joke: Cohen writes other books under the name E.J. Copperman.)
Overall, I found the book to be very entertaining. The plot was convoluted enough, the resolution was satisfactory, and the information about cryonics was interesting. The characters were well developed, even when viewed through Samuel’s sometimes limited perspective.
Most of all, I enjoyed Samuel’s observations such as, “It is always a mistake to assume that people will conform to stereotypes. It’s taken me years to understand, but incident after incident has proven to me that one must see hard evidence before making a statement. . . . It’s possible to make an assumption based on a probability, but it is not a reliable way to decide a question.”
Other titles include The Question of the Unfamiliar Husband, The Question of the Felonious Friend, and The Question of the Absentee Father. I plan on reading them all.