Reviewed by Brenlee Carrington
HOWARD Engel's latest book is a compilation of true, torrid tales -- a chilling analysis of international crimes of passion.
In scrutinizing some of history's most lurid murders, the award-winning Toronto mystery writer, best known for his Benny Cooperman series, will simultaneously horrify and intrigue readers.
Famed Canadian criminal defence lawyer Eddie Greenspan writes in the book's foreword: "All persons are potential murderers, needing only circumstances and a sufficiently overwhelming emotion that will triumph over the restraint that education and habit have built up to control the powerful surging instincts and feelings that sometimes overwhelm men and women."
Engel himself writes: "These crimes are direct responses to unbearable betrayal, broken hearts, destroyed characters, ruined lives and injured pride."
It's that very sudden, impulsive, overwhelming lack of control that differentiates a crime of passion from a premeditated killing. Engel observes: "Crimes of passion are offences not normally committed by criminals but by ordinary people, who are criminalized only by these acts. Both sexes and all classes and races commit these crimes."
A former CBC Radio producer, Engel has researched his subject matter thoroughly. The reader learns that "half of the women murdered in Britain are killed by their husbands or lovers." Several Canadian cases are also included.
Engel takes a fresh look at O.J. Simpson's domestic devastation and Lorena Bobbit's maiming of her then husband.
In each tragedy, Engel documents details and lends light to the motives.
Engel is clearly fascinated with the law and makes his case for the abolition, from Canada's Criminal Code, of the legal doctrine of sudden provocation. He feels that sudden provocation should not be regarded by the legal system as a mitigating circumstance because the dead victim cannot dispute the defendant's version of the facts.
Crimes of Passion is more disturbing than any fictional whodunit: the reader's senses are assaulted on page after page with painful and violent reminders of the shattered lives of real people.
Brenlee Carrington is a Winnipeg lawyer and journalist.