Dial H For Hitchcock: A Cece Caruso Mystery by Susan Kandel

hitchcockReviewed by Douglas R. Cobb

Mistaken identities, double dealings, intricate suspenseful plots, not-so-innocent blondes, stolen identities, and murder–these are some of the most well-known elements that play a vital role in many of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest movies. They also all serve that same end in Dial H For Hitchcock, Susan Kandel’s latest page-turning Cece Caruso mystery. Fresh back from a honeymoon cruise which she went on sans a husband, she’s working on a biography on the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. Little does she suspect that she’s about to become entangled and implicated in a crime herself, framed for the murder of a woman she’s never met before, just like the leading ladies of some of Hitchcock’s movies.

Someone has placed a hot pink cell phone in Cece’s purse that looks almost identical to her own phone while she watches the Hitchcock movie Vertigo at the Orpheum Theater, but she doesn’t notice it there until after she leaves the theater. She doesn’t know who it belongs to, though she thinks it must be one of the people attending the movie whom she saw and spoke to before it began. Knowing that narrows down her choice to five possibilities, including a man who sat next to her and who also had an interest in Hitchcock movies, whom she hit it off with and refers to in the novel as Bachelor Number One. The other possibilities are a lesbian neurologist and her beige cardigan wearing girlfriend, a blonde in a robin’s-egg blue dress, and her bald boyfriend.

Later that night, Cece gets a call on the phone at eleven o’clock from a man who doesn’t say who he is, but says: “Hi – just wanted to confirm our hike.” Cece doesn’t have to wonder for very long where the rendevous will take place:

“Beachwood Canyon,” he went on without taking a breath. “By the stables,
around five.”

She decides to go there, hoping that by doing so she’ll discover the identity of the owner of the cell phone and be able to return it. Instead, she witness the aforementioned murder, and becomes the number one suspect by the police. It seems that someone has stolen her identity, and has been convincing everyone that she is Cece Caruso. The real Cece has to prove that she is innocent, but to do so, she has to stay out of prison long enough to find the evidence she needs.

Using the device of writing biographies on famous mystery authors and movie directors is a pretty cool way to frame a mystery novel. Also, it introduces or reintroduces mystery fans to authors/directors they might be unfamiliar with. Though I have seen many of Hitchcock’s movies, there were many things I read about his life and career that I had never known before. Cece makes the perfect Hitchcock-style leading lady when she dyes her hair blonde to evade detection by the cops and to try to elude whoever has been setting her up.

Another mystery author who Cece did a biography of was Dame Agatha Christie, which the novel Christietown is about. Though I haven’t read it, if it’s anything like Dial H For Hitchcock, I’m guessing that it would also be an excellent read. Like Christie’s mysteries, each novel in Kandel’s Cece Caruso series can be read as a stand-alone book, and enjoyed without having read previous books in the series.

The one plot element that kind of bothered me and as being a flaw in its logic was that Cece could have ignored the murderer’s threats and told the police she thinks someone is setting her up, and that would have probably been all she would have needed to do to stop the poice from suspecting her. That’s because they could have checked with the phone company and could have found out that Cece was lured to the murder site, and also that someone called her soon after, threatening her. Of course, if she’d done so, the novel would only consist of maybe a couple of chapters, and would not have been nearly as interesting as it is, if one ignores this nagging flaw and reads on, as I did.

Dial H For Hitchcock might sound like a familiar title to anyone who is already a Hitchcock fan, for Hitchcock made a movie called Dial M For Murder, and there was a 1999 documentary film narrated by Kevin Spacey of the same title as this book that was an homage to Hitch. I’m new to this series, but really liked it, despite what I consider the flaw in logic I mentioned. It’s a book I’d recommend to anyone who loves a very good, suspenseful mystery novel, with enough twist and turns to make the Master of Suspense himself proud, if he were still alive.

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