Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck, Nick Bertozzi (Illustrations)

Eleven-year-old Jack is at the funeral of his mother who has committed suicide. His father died in the war which means Jack is an orphan. He ends up under the guardianship of his chocoholic Aunt Edith who lives in the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. It is clear from the start that auntie wants money from Jack. She is abusive and loves chocolate, eating it in front of Jack and not offering him a thing. Ah, the cruelty. I know if someone had given me that anniversary box of chocolate like Jack, I would have gobbled it up and auntie would have never known it existed. Instead, nice Jack, brings the aunt the chocolate and discovers that the famous Alfred Hitchcock lives across the hall from him in a hotel room. When Aunt Addict, I mean Edith, disappears and a ransom note appears, the two team up to figure out the mystery.

This ambitious attempt to blend all-things-Hitchcock with the orphan story genre works for the most part, but the pacing suffers with long descriptions that are slow at times. Perhaps if I was an avid Hitchcock fan I would see parts as playing homage to his movies, but I just didn't think some of the chapters advanced the plot's action. I kept setting the book down because the mystery wasn't clipping along. I did my usual in those spots - I hit warp speed reading mode.

Some of the twists were predictable (chocolate, setup, code) while others were not. Of course, I did recognize that one of the obvious clues was a MacGuffin, a technique popularized by Alfred Hitchcock. Unfortunately, that is the extent of my Hitchcock mania and I haven't seen one of his films in over twenty years so I can't say I appreciated this book like I was supposed to. Some obvious Hitchcock nods are: false identities, the article on birds, wrongly accused protagonists, names, and more. References to movies are probably sprinkled throughout but I know I missed a lot. While this is a mystery that pays homage to Hitchcock, it also is the orphan story that reminded me of "The Little Princess" except the protagonist is a boy.

The author does capture Hitchcock's creepy humor and he also adds some film theory that adds depth. The author's note is very helpful in understanding what he set forth to accomplish and the Appendix gives terrific summaries on each of the 35 chapters that reference a Hitchcock movie. I wondered if that was why some chapters seemed forced to me. Perhaps the author was trying too hard to make the story fit with the movie-titled chapter.

The unusual and brilliant mix of of techniques in film and literature lift this above your average fare. Each chapter is foreshadowed by a storyboard illustration showing the protagonist in some scene. This is a clever way to mimic the movies where storyboards are a common technique. Storyboards are also used in children's picture books. Jack is an amazing artist making illustrations from memory that is better than your average child. He creates mystery storyboards if you like. That doesn't exist in literature but maybe it should - it was a clever way to show how Jack organizes his thoughts.

This also reminds me of how Hitchcock was known for his unusual film techniques that added tension to his films. Jack's gift adds to his character traits and makes him interesting as a character - a creative way of echoing movies in literature. I did notice that while I looked at the storyboards closely at first, I did less as the story went on. I really thought the book was too long at 400 pages. You'll have to decide yourself. If you love Hitchcock, then you should definitely read this.

4 Smileys

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