Saturday, February 20, 2010

TFOMC: Dial H For Hitchcock

Daily Space will now deal with mystery fiction, as well as fantasy and science fiction. To start with, I'm moving all the entries from my blog: The Friends of Mr. Cairo, over here.

Each Mystery oriented blog entry here will have the prefic TFOMC (The Friends of Mr. Cairo).

Dial H For Hitchcock, by Susan Kandel, is an enjoyable read, but before I get into my review, let me rant for a paragraph or two on the woes of a frustrated mystery writer! Twenty years ago, that's what I wanted to be, a mystery writer in the fashion of my favorite author, Agatha Christie.

And I even had a great idea for a plot. A group of people who wished to become members of the Delicious Death Society had to meet the entrance requirement - which was to have seen a production of every play Agatha Christie ever wrote. And as the group traveled hither and yon, eventually having to mount a production of Akhnaton themselves, they encountered mysteries and murders...which they totally ignored in favor of their on-stage mystery quest. It would have been fantastic, and hilarious...but I didn't have the staying power to write it, let alone the skill.

So imagine my annoyance and envy when, after reading Dial H For Hitchcock, I take a look at the other books in the Cece Caruso series and find that one of them is called Christietown, with the plot as follows: "A new suspense-themed housing tract on the edge of the Mojave desert is about to open. For the grand opening weekend, Cece Caruso is staging a play featuring the beloved sleuth Miss Marple. But everything goes wrong...including a leading lady who ends up dead."

Substitute my Delicious Death Society for that "suspense-themed housing tract," and this was the book I coulda/shoulda written 20 years ago! Well, I'll have to go out and acquire the copy, just to make my misery complete.

Anyway, back to the real subject of this hub, which is a review of Dial H for Hitchcock. It's brand new, the fourth book in the series, and the first book of Kandel's that I've read. I enjoyed it so much that I will be getting the remaining will be interesting to read Not a Girl Detective which features the mileiu of the Nancy Drew collector. (I always preferred the Hardy Boys myself, although my absolute favorite children/teens mystery series is the original Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series.)

Cece Caruso, "mystery biographer extraordinaire, vintage clothing enthusiast, and part time sleuth" goes to see a movie, carrying a purse with a clasp doesn't close all the way. Ths allows a cell phone to fall into the bag, unnoticed by her until she returns home.

Cece finds the phone because someone calls on it, and tells her to meet him at "Beachwood Canyon," never giving Cece a chance to tell him she's not who he thinks she is. She decides to go to the rendezvous to return the phone...only to witness a man and a woman struggling on a cliff...and then the woman falling to her death.

Cece then puts her sleuthing skills into high gear, to find the identity of the murderer...but quickly descends into the nightmarish realms that HItchcock did so well...of events that happen that don't make sense, of the innocent man (or in this case, woman) suspected of a crime she did not commit, all the while also working on her biography of Alfred Hitchcock which is overdue to the publisher!

Cece Caruso is a delightful character, and her personality comes across in the first person narrative style. She's funny, she's charming, and she's got a strong sense of justice.

Here's a few paragraphs from the book:

I broke into a run, hoping I'd magically transform into a superhero by the time I got to where they were. I craned my neck upward. They were close to the edge now, still tangled in each other's arms. It was at least thirty feet down. The sound of branches cracking under their feet reverberated across the canyon.

The sweat was pouring off my face now, the panic rising in my chest. Buster was barking loudly.

"Please!" The woman was struggling to pull herself free. "I'm begging you!"

Oh, God. I couldn't think. Everything was happening too fast.

"I'm calling 911!" I finally shouted.

But to my horror, I realized that I'd left her cell phone on the trail at least a quarter of a mile in the opposite direction.

I had to go back.

I had to get to the phone and call 911 so somebody would come and get her down and haul him off to jail.

But it was too late for that.

Because it was at precisely that moment--when I was feeling hot and scared and sorrier for myself than you can imagine--that a man I didn't know pushed a woman I didn't know off the edge of a mountain.

Her body hit the ground, somewhere out of my sightline, with an obscene thud.

Authour Susan Kandel has a firm grasp of first person witty and off-beat narrative and dialog, so much so that she reminded me of an edgier Elizabeth Peters (in her Vicky Bliss novels, not the Peabody series). The mystery is satisfying, the references to Alfred Hitchcock and his movies enjoyable, and Cece makes an appealing heroine.

Highly recommended.

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